Brazil: Last minute ban on Holocaust-themed carnival float

A few days before the official Carnival kicks off, Unidos do Viradouro samba school had a float banned from the parade, after Jewish groups took a stand against it for featuring a pile of dead victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The Israelite Federation of Rio de Janeiro filed a lawsuit and a judge issued an injunction banning the float from the parade.

If the school decided to ignore the decision and carry on the parade with dead bodies, it would face fines of $113,000 as well as $28,000 for each dancer dressed as Hitler. Viradouro's theme this year is ‘It freaks out‘ and the controversial float would be among other ones that evoke shiver: birth, horror and cold, all together eight sensations that aimed to provoke a collective shiver.

On learning the news, American living in Rio Rachel Glickhouse was less offended than she was sad, because she could see more ignorance than malice in the choice of such a subject:

So here is the problem: ignorance. Carnaval is a time when Brazil turns everything on its head: the rich and the poor are equalized, what is normal becomes not, and the insane and the unallowed and the sensual and the uninhibited become the centerpieces of the festival. But since the guys over at Viradouto have no concept of the gravity of the Holocaust, to them it just seemed like another thing to “turn on its head” during Carnaval. Carnaval is not a time to take things seriously, but rather to overturn what is normal to enjoy a time of absolute ridiculousness that only happens once a year. (…) I doubt a samba school would make a float depicting the “disappeared” and tortured Brazilians during the dictatorship, or of slaves getting beaten by a master. The Holocaust is simply out of these guys’ frame of reference. Most of them are from favelas and live in a world completely different from the one most of us know.

However, Brazilian bloggers are divided. Some considered the ban correct and appropriate, and the float a trivialization of a historic tragedy. Others think that everything should be allowed at Carnival or called the ban censorship. Alex Castro [pt] was among the second group:

Diga rápido: o que é pior? Que alguém se proponha a fazer um carro alegórico sobre o Holocausto (com direito a judeus mortos e um Hitler dançando sobre eles) ou que uma juíza se ache no direito de proibir essa barbaridade? (…). O pior da censura é que ela fere os direitos do público de formar sua própria opinião. Em princípio, eu acho a idéia de um carro alegórico sobre o Holocausto de um mau-gosto enorme mas, agora, graças à censura judicial promovida pela Federação Israelita, eu nunca vou poder formar minha opinião, nunca saberei como teria sido essa barbaridade. Sim, eu entendo que alguém que perdeu o pai no Holocasto poderia se ferir com esse carro alegórico, mas essa é uma das desvatangens de se viver em uma sociedade livre. As vantagens compensam, confie em mim. Os direito do público de ter acesso à obra, mesmo que de terrível mau-gosto, devem ter preferência em relação aos direitos do ofendidos – exceto em casos de calúnia, difamação ou injúria.

Tell me quickly: what is worse? Someone proposing to make an allegorical float about the Holocaust (including even killed Jews and a Hitler dancing on them) or a judge thinking that she has the right to ban such barbarity? (…). The worst thing about censorship is that it curbs the public's rights to have their own opinion. In principle, I think the idea of a float about the Holocaust was in rather poor taste, but now thanks to judicial censorship promoted by the Israeli Federation, I will never be able to have my opinion, I will never know how such barbarity would have been. Yes, I believe that this float would hurt the feelings of someone who lost their father in the Holocaust, but this is one of the disadvantages of living in a free society. The advantages are greater, trust me. The public's right to have access to artwork, even terribly bad taste ones, should have be in preference to the rights of those offended – except in cases of libel, defamation or injury.

Meanwhile, Christiano Bianco [pt] defends the idea, considering it a fair protest against the Holocaust:

Não sejamos hipócritas. Napoleão, imperadores romanos e tantos outros déspotas sanguinários são lembrados nos enredos das escolas desde que o Carnaval existe. Por que só Hitler não pode aparecer? A iniciativa de Paulo Barros deveria ser encarada como um protesto face aos descalabros do Holocausto e não como chacota e banalização.

Let's not be hypocrites. Napoleon, Roman emperors and so many other bloodthirsty tyrants are reminded in the samba schools plots since Carnival was created. Why is it that only Hitler can not appear? Paulo Barros’ [the lead designer] initiative should have been seen as a protest against the misfortunes of the Holocaust and not as mockery and trivialization.

Whereas Ana Paula Freitas [pt] can not see any sense in Viradouro's choice of theme anyway:

Eu só não posso entender como uma escola de samba acha legal fazer uma ‘homenagem’ ao holocausto colocando no carro alegórico um monte de cadáveres e alguém vestido de Hitler sambando em cima deles. Tipo. SAMBANDO. Desculpem a falta de sensibilidade pra piada, sério.

I just can't understand how come that a samba school finds it cool to pay ‘homage’ to the Holocaust putting in a float a lot of bodies and someone dressed up as Hitler dancing samba on top of them. I mean, dancing samba. Forgive my lack of sense of humour for jokes, seriously.

Gilberto Fontes [pt] believes that the Carnival is not the most the appropriate forum to address this issue, especially when there are still holocaust like events happening in the world:

O enredo “É de arrepiar” não precisava apelar tanto. O Holocausto é fato, é história que se repete no século XXI, quando ainda acontecem genocídios como em Darfur, no Sudão, onde cerca de 400 mil darfurenses já foram dizimados de 2003 para cá por milicianos janjawid apoiados pelo governo sudanês na disputa que opõe a população árabe muçulmana do país aos muçulmanos não-árabes da região devido a questões de distribuição de terras e recursos. O carnaval não é fórum adequado para se tratar o tema. Nem este nem qualquer questão séria ou polêmica. A festa é das plumas, paetês e lantejoulas. Pode ser palco de críticas, mas também o é de sonhos e ilusões.

The theme “It freaks out” needed not to be so invoking. The Holocaust is a fact, it's history that repeats itself in the twenty-first century when there are still genocide in Darfur, Sudan, where in 2003 around 400 thousand people were killed by janjawid militia supported by the Sudanese government in disputes that turns the Muslim country's Arab population against the region's non-Arab Muslims over land and resources distribution issues. The carnival is not the appropriate forum to address this issue. Neither this or any serious issues or controversy. The festival is for the plumes, pom poms and glitter. It can be used as platform for criticism, but also it is also there for dreams and illusions.

Ricardo Pinto [pt] agrees with him and makes a comparison with what would be the trivialization of terrorist acts if shown at the same kind of parade and location:

Seria quase como, por exemplo, uma escola de samba resolver apresentar um carro alegórico mostrando os escombros do WTC, sobre eles todo o tipo de coisas que iriam desde laptops quebrados até pernas e cabeças humanas decepadas e de fundo a efígie do Bin Laden.

It would be almost like, for example, if a samba school decided to parade a float showing the WTC's rubble, and on the top of it the kinds of things that would have been there such as laptops, broken legs and beheaded human heads with a bin Laden's effigy in the background.

Similarly, Fernando Rizzolo [pt] believes that it is important to remember the Holocaust, but this should be done in a different way:

O Holocausto deve ser relembrado com a visão da liberdade, mas não de liberalidade como carnaval, festa alegre, bonita, enfim, uma ofegante epidemia onde não há lugar para tristezas.

The Holocaust should be reminded with the view of liberty, but not with the liberality of carnival, a joyful, beautiful festival, anyway, a breathless outbreak where there is no place for sadness.

Rio's Carnival starts this Sunday, February 3. The highlights of the celebrations are 12 separate 80-minute parades by samba schools from the city's shanty towns over two nights. They feature hundreds of drummers and thousands of dancers to compete to be the champion. The themes often depict social and political issues and this is not the first time there were last-minute problems for Samba Schools. In 1989, Roman Catholic Church has barred floats with figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary and the samba school had to cover or modify them.


  • Great article, Paula! I wrote another update on the issue today, badly translating the “press release” Viradouro put up on their website.

    Check it out here:

  • ana

    Hi, Paula. Thank you for the quotation. The article is excellent, specially because of the way you exposed so different points of view. I didn’t know this site, and now I will come back more times. =)

    Oi, Paula. Obrigada pela citação. O artigo ficou excelente, especialmente pela maneira como você expôs visões tão diferentes. Não conhecia o site vou visitar mais. =)

  • Olá Paula! Tomo a liberdade de fazer minhas as palavras da Ana. Muito obrigado pela citação e parabéns pelo excelente artigo que expõe com muita propriedade e dignidade as opiniões cambiantes dos bloggers brasileiros quanto ao ocorrido com a Viradouro esse ano. Não conhecia o site e, esteja certa, aqui voltarei com freqüência. Forte abraço!

    Traslation by GVO:

    Hello Paula! I will take the liberty to borrow Ana’s words. Thank you very much for mentioning me and congratulations for the excellent article which shows alternating opinions from Brazilian bloggers about the issue with Viradouro with much ground and dignity. I didn’t know about this website, but be assured I will be back often. See you!

  • Hey guys, thank YOU for reporting what is going on on your blogospheres and keep up the good work!

  • I have just come across Colin Brayton’s translation of some posts on the blogosphere in Spanish:

    Enjoy it!

  • Matthew Freedman

    I’m no brasilian, so don’t understand the culture but I was seriously thinking getting last minute plane to Rio De Janeiro for that weekend. Being jewish, if I had saw that float I would have been alittle upset really, it wouldn’t have spoilt the event. I think these people have made a naive mistake. We could help them understand by comparing it to doing a float at the London Carnival with John Charles de Mendes who got shot in London, with dancing policeman over him.

  • Emil

    Beleave it or not, in Germany and Austria all Sambaschool would go to prison. There are sincetists searching for how the Nazis did it exactly to kill up to 20000 people per day
    and how they did get rid of the bodys. If what they find out is not they same, what was beleaved before and prevered by the Government, and speak or write about it, they go to prison 2-5 years.

  • […] acabei mencionando para meu primo o fato de que o Temporal de Idéias foi citado em uma matéria do Global Voices Online – um projeto mantido pela Faculdade de Direito de Harvard (Berkman Center) voltado para a […]

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