Germany’s Carnival is an expression of anarchic fun and mockery of those in power. Yet the Nazis sought to harness the potential of the festivities for their own ends. Anti-Semitic floats and speeches attacking Germany’s enemies were commonplace, and defiance was rare.
It was Rose Monday in the German city of Cologne and the festivities for the 1934 Carnival were well underway. Of the many floats taking part in the traditional parade, one featured a group of men dressed up as orthodox Jews. The banner above them read “The Last Ones Are Leaving.” This was, after all, Carnival under the Third Reich.
The float was one of the many expressions of anti-Semitism marking the German Carnival season during the years leading up to World War II. Another float from 1935 seems a terrible harbinger of the Holocaust to come. In Nuremberg, where the infamous anti-Semitic race laws would be introduced later that year, a papier-mâché figure of a Jew hung from a bar on a model mill as if on a gallows.
Yet until recently, it has been almost taboo to speak about Germany’s Carnival and the Nazis in the same breath. Carnival, the pre-Lent festival celebrated in the predominantly Catholic west and south of Germany, displays the cheerful, humorous, raucous side of Germany. Nothing could seem further removed from the horrors perpetrated by Hitler’s regime. Continue reading