Jews seek to heal wounds of past with first ever Karneval float

Even before the Nazis' rise to power, Jews were banned from taking part in Cologne Karneval. This year a Jewish organization wants to overcome the past by building a float for the Düsseldorf procession.

Jews seek to heal wounds of past with first ever Karneval float
The Heinrich Heine float. Photo: DPA

For decades the cities of the Rhine, foremost among them Cologne and Düsseldorf, liked to claim that their famous Karneval processions were a hotbed of anti-Nazi satire during the 1930s.

Only more recently has documentary evidence shown that the Nazis in fact used the Karneval to spread their anti-Semitic worldview by building floats depicting age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes. Many carnival associations were also taken over by the Nazis during the 1930s.

Most uncomfortably for Cologne, anti-Semitism was in fact prevalent at their carnival parade long before the Nazis came to power. Cologne Karneval association banned Jews from taking part as early as 1923, just a year after the first Jewish carnival club had been established.

This year, the Jewish community in Düsseldorf hopes to heal old wounds – and fight modern day anti-Semitism – by entering the first ever Jewish float into the city’s famous Rosenmontag parade on February 12th.

The float, which cost €35,000 to build, will depict the 19th century poet Heinrich Heine, who was born in Düsseldorf. An inscription on the side notes that “we are celebrating the greatest Jewish son of our city.”

“We live in a time in which anti-Semitism is becoming acceptable again – where it has gone from being confined to the far left and right to slowly entering the mainstream,” said Michael Szentei-Heise, head of the Jewish community in Düsseldorf. “We’re a part of Düsseldorf society – we belong here and anti-Semitism has no place here.”

Just as synagogues and other Jewish buildings are almost always guarded in Germany, the float will also have “special security arrangements,” Szentei-Heise said. But he added that these would not be outwardly visible on the float.

In Cologne, there are also signs of a mini Jewish renaissance in carnival participation. This year a Jewish group has been founded to participate in the city's Karneval, which attracts millions of visitors from across the globe.

But Szentei-Heise admits that the reactions in the Jewish community have been “very diverse.” While the Jewish community in Krefeld donated money for building the float, other communities in the region showed little understanding for the project.

For Szentei-Heise, the float is ultimately an attempt to address serious issues with a bit of humour.

“You can complain and moan all day about what you read in the papers – but you can also drive a float through the Karneval,” he says.


Outrage in Germany after remains of neo-Nazi buried in empty Jewish grave

The burial of a known neo-Nazi's ashes in the former grave of a Jewish musical scholar has sparked outrage in Germany, and prompted Berlin's anti-Semitism official to file a criminal complaint.

Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th.
Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

The remains of the neo-Nazi were buried at the grave of Max Friedlaender in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, with several figures from the extreme-right scene in attendance at the funeral on Friday.

Samuel Salzborn, anti-Semitism official for Berlin, said late Tuesday that he had filed a criminal complaint because “the intention here is obvious – the right-wing extremists deliberately chose a Jewish grave to disturb the peace of the dead by burying a Holocaust denier there”.

He added that “it must now be quickly examined how quickly the Holocaust denier can be reburied in order to no longer disturb the dignified memory of Max Friedlaender”.

Friedlaender died in 1934 – when Adolf Hitler was already in power – and was buried in the graveyard as his religion was given as ‘Protestant’ in the burial registration slip

His grave was cleared upon expiration in 1980 and opened up for new burials, under common practice for plots after a certain amount of time has passed.

Friedlaender’s gravestone however remains standing as the entire cemetery is protected under monument conservative rules.


The Protestant Church managing the graveyard voiced dismay at the incident.

In a statement, it said it had accepted the request for burial at the empty grave because “everyone has a right for a final resting place”.

“Nevertheless, the choice of the former grave of Max Friedlaender is a mistake. We are looking into this mistake now,” the church said in a statement.

At the funeral, a black cloth was laid over Friedlaender’s tombstone while wreathes and ribbons bearing the Nazi-era iron cross symbol were laid on the grave for the neo-Nazi Henry Hafenmayer.

Prominent Holocaust denier Horst Mahler, who has been convicted for incitement, was among dozens at the funeral.

Police deployed at the funeral were able to arrest a fugitive from the far-right scene there, German media reported.

Several war graves stand at the cemetery at Stahnsdorf, and these sites are known in far-right circles, the Protestant church administrating the graveyard admitted.

It added that it has worked closely with police to hinder several neo-Nazi marches there in recent years.

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