The mayor of the Belgian city whose annual parade featured puppets of Jews and a rat, sitting on money bags, has defended the display, telling local media that “in Aalst it should be allowed.”
Christoph D’Haese told the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper that “it’s not up to the mayor to forbid” such displays, and that “the carnival participants had no sinister intentions.”
Jewish groups and international organisations, including the European Commission, have condemned the float at the Aalst Carnival.
“It is unthinkable that such imagery is being paraded on European streets 70 years after the Holocaust,” a spokesperson from the European Commission, said.
B’nai B’rith International said it was “disgusted” with the anti-Semitic puppets” that were on display. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, wrote to a Belgian Cabinet Minister saying that his group was “sickened” by the display.
The float, titled “Shabbat Year,” was prepared by the Vismooil’n carnival group. It featured two giant puppets with sidelocks and streimels, in pink suits. One, grinning while smoking a cigar, had a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets were standing on gold coins and had money bags at their feet.
On a wheeled platform directly behind the float, several dozen people dressed like the puppets danced to a song about full coffers that were “Jewishly beautiful” and about “getting extra fat.”
The annual carnival featuring the display was added in 2010 to the Representative List of UNESCO.
A spokesperson for the carnival group told a blogger last month that the display was meant to address how “everything has become so expensive.”
Vismooil’n created the display as its 2019 theme for the Aalst carnival, the local edition of celebrations that take place throughout parts of Europe and Latin America annually in anticipation of Lent.
In 2013, a different group designed a float resembling a Nazi railway wagon used to transport Jews to death camps. The people who designed the float, known as the FTP Group, marched nearby dressed as Nazi SS officers and Orthodox Jews. A poster on the wagon showed Flemish Belgian politicians dressed as Nazis and holding canisters labelled as containing Zyklon B, used by the Nazis to exterminate Jews in the Holocaust. UNESCO condemned that display.
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