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The Carnival Fools and the Nazis (2008)

Authors: Frank Gutermuth and Sebastian Kuhn

The Carnival Fools and the Nazis (2008)

The history of Germany’s carnival associations and celebrations during the Nazi period is a story of tradition, assimilation, and submission; it also is a story of protest and passive resistance against the prevailing circumstances. This film’s focus is set on carnival strongholds such as Cologne and Mainz, but it also takes a closer look at Nuremberg, where the influence of Nazi fanatic Julius Streicher created a very different situation. Heddernheim, a district of Frankfurt, offers yet a contrasting example of a small but brave carnival fools’ association quite unlike many of the bigger ones which gave in to submission under Nazi rule.

Ever since Hitler’s ascent to power, the National Socialists strove to use carnival ideologically for their own purposes. Even before November 11, 1933 – the beginning of carnival season – the Nazis issued a directive under which any reference to the Christian-ecclesiastic term “Fastabend” was prohibited; instead, the distinctly more nationalist term “Vasenacht” was reintroduced. Jewish carnival fools were immediately forced into passive membership, banning them from participation in the parades. The Nuremberg Race Laws in 1935, in accordance to which carnival associations incorporated the “Aryan Paragraph” into their statutes, ended Jewish membership completely.

Protest and resistance to these laws were rare. Traditional carnival’s themes, such as sense of belonging, fatherland and romanticism, fit well into Nazi ideology, and carnival songs often enthusiastically embraced and reflected a widespread nationalism. But in those areas in which the Nazi leadership attempted to restrict the associations’ autonomy and interfere with tradition resentment arose, and the “impossible” act of voicing dissent became a possibility.

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