As Carnival celebrations occupied streets around the world this week, a Spanish parade troupe featured Nazis dancing with guns, scantily clad concentration-camp inmates waving Israel’s flag and a float with two crematorium chimneys.

The display was met with indignation from European politicians, Jewish rights groups and other observers who called it a disgusting symbol and an insult to the six million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.

Within hours of the parade, the Israeli Embassy in Spain condemned “the vile and repugnant representation trivializing the Holocaust” in Campo de Criptana, a town roughly 80 miles southeast of Madrid in the Castilla-La Mancha region. Arancha González Laya, Spain’s minister of foreign affairs, said she was “horrified.”

The Auschwitz Memorial wrote that the performance was “Hard to describe: memory upside-down, far beyond vulgar kitsch, without any relevance, without reflection & respect.”

The widespread backlash forced the El Chaparral Cultural Association, a Carnival troupe from the nearby town of Las Mesas, to quickly apologize for creating the display. The organization said it had intended to promote “a message of consideration and respect” but that it would cancel its attendance at coming parades in light of the controversy.

“We also want to indicate that the El Chaparral Cultural Association is against the genocide against the Jewish people, for whom we feel great admiration and respect and to whom we present our apologies,” the association wrote on Instagram.

In an inscription on its float, El Chaparral had written that the staging was meant to commemorate those who died in the Holocaust and all who are persecuted and killed for their race, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic origin or political beliefs.

For centuries, Carnival festivals leading up to Ash Wednesday have offered a last chance for major celebrations before Roman Catholics observe the more solemn season of Lent. The past two years, however, allegations of anti-Semitism in Europe have stolen the spotlight: The Carnival parade in Aalst, Belgium, included stereotypical depictions of Jews for the second year in a row.

UNESCO in December removed the Belgian parade from its Intangible Cultural Heritage list because a float from last year included anti-Semitic symbols. Still, some people at this year’s parade dressed like insects and wore fur hats like those worn by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, the Associated Press reported.

The parade floats with offensive depictions of Jews come as Europe experiences a surge of anti-Semitism. Nearly 90 percent of Jews living in 12 European countries, including Spain and Belgium, felt that anti-Semitism had increased in their country during the past decade, according to a 2018 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, said he rejected El Chaparral’s assertion that its Holocaust display was meant to show respect to victims. He said he viewed the staging as a dangerous reflection of anti-Semitism that tries to rewrite people’s perceptions of one of humanity’s worst atrocities.

Combined, the Spanish float and the Belgian display sent a striking message, Cooper said.

“It’s hard to get shocked, but when you take these two together, it is shocking,” he said in an interview. “The assumption was, I guess, that collective memory would last a lot longer.”

Town officials from Campo de Criptana said they approved El Chaparral’s Holocaust staging because the organization had described it as “a tribute to the millions of people that unjustly died in the extermination that took place during World War II in Germany.”

“Now that we’ve seen the representation, we share the criticisms produced,” the town said in a statement. “If the initial objective was to commemorate the victims, it is evident that this has not been achieved.”

Town officials blamed El Chaparral for the result and said municipal officials lacked the capacity to control or supervise the staging of all groups that participate in the parade. The town added that it condemned the Holocaust and any mockery or trivialization of it.

Mayor Santiago Lázaro told the radio network Cadena SER that although El Chapparal was one of the most faithful participants in the town’s annual celebration, creating parade staging around the Holocaust was not in the spirit of Carnival and was unlikely to happen again.

Read more: