Jewish Groups Outraged Munich Carnival Parade to Fall on Holocaust Day

Munich is to hold a carnival parade on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jewish groups have protested what they feel is a lack of sensitivity, but organizers insist they didn't know the date's significance and refuse to postpone the festivities.

Appropriate behavior for Holocaust Remembrance Day? These Munich girls didn't have to worry about it in 2002 -- that year it fell on Jan. 26.

Appropriate behavior for Holocaust Remembrance Day? These Munich girls didn't have to worry about it in 2002 -- that year it fell on Jan. 26.

One might imagine that Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, would be marked with particular reverence and solemnity in Germany, where the Holocaust still casts a very tangible shadow over daily life.

But it is a sign of how little the date has penetrated the public consciousness that a carnival society in Munich has chosen that date for their carnival parade. Around 1,000 people dressed as carnival "fools" will parade through the Bavarian capital next Sunday, watched by an expected 30,000 onlookers.

The choice of date has led to huge protests from Germany's Jewish community. "I cannot understand how people can celebrate a day of remembrance, which non-Jews established so they can commemorate the terrible events of the Holocaust together with Jews, as a day of rejoicing with carnival parades," said Charlotte Knobloch, head of the influential Central Council of Jews in Germany, in remarks to the news agency DPA.

Josef Schuster, president of the Bavarian Jewish community, was similarly outraged, saying that a carnival parade on Holocaust Remembrance Day was "an undertaking which is hard to beat in terms of lack of sensitivity."

Christian representatives also criticized the timing of the parade. Johannes Friedrich, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, told the daily Tagesspiegel: "For me it's impossible to understand how Munich city hall could allow a carnival parade to take place on this day."

The date Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration and death camp, was declared to be the official day of remembrance for the victims of the Nazis by former German President Roman Herzog in 1996. The United Nations designated the date as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.

Munich Mayor Christian Ude, who is the patron of the parade, has come under particular fire for his decision to take part in the event despite the protests. He defended his decision, saying that there was no legal basis for preventing the event from taking place. "The remembrance day on Jan. 27 is not a public holiday and neither does it enjoy any kind of legal protection," he told the Tagesspiegel, adding that Holocaust Remembrance Day is "not fixed in people's memories."

The organizers, a group called the Damischen Ritter (Dazed Knights), are refusing to postpone or cancel the parade. They claim they were not aware of the date's significance when they chose it in the middle of 2007. "We told the date to hundreds of people and nobody pointed out to us that there is a remembrance day on that date," spokesman Helmut Wollner told DPA. "And we couldn't have known that ourselves -- after all, it's not in any calendar." He said that it was not possible to change the date of the parade any more, because carnival season is so short this year, and because it would simply be too much work.

The carnival season this year ends on Feb. 5, which marks Mardi Gras, the day before the start of Lent. During carnival season, groups all across Germany, but especially in the Rhineland and Catholic south, hold street parades featuring satirical floats and participants wearing fancy dress.

However organizers in another Bavarian city, Regensburg, have decided to postpone their carnival parade from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3 after protests from the Jewish community. Organizers there complain that many floats have cancelled their participation due to the change in date and the parade will be much smaller than planned.

Although they are refusing to postpone the parade, the Munich organizers are taking steps to appease critics. They have changed the route of the parade so that it no longer passes by a square in the center of Munich dedicated to Holocaust victims. The group will also take part in a memorial event to Holocaust victims on Friday as a sign of their good will. They also claim that, as the date marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is not inappropriate to be happy and celebrate.

For organizer Wollner, the controversy has a silver lining. "Before, the date was apparently not well known in the general population," he told DPA. "But that will maybe change, now that we've screwed up."



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