Court rules anti-Semitic sculpture can remain on church wall

A German court has ruled that an anti-Semitic carving may remain on the wall of a church in Wittenburg.

The 13th century relief on the wall of St Mary’s Church depicts a rabbi lifting a sow’s tail to peer at its behind while Jewish children suckle on the pig’s teats. The “Judensau” offends a fundamental tenet of Jewish law according to which pigs are considered unclean and consuming pork products and rearing pigs is prohibited. During the Middle Ages, similar depictions of Jews with female pigs were used to mock Jews and Judaism.

Local Jewish community member, Michael Düllman, is responsible for bringing the claim to have the carving removed on the basis that it is defamatory and “an insult to the Jewish people”. By allowing the 700-year-old sculpture to remain, Düllman argues that the church is propagating a legacy of anti-Semitism dating back to when Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, preached at St Mary’s Church. Luther produced many anti-Semitic writings. A member of Berlin’s Jewish community, Sigmount A. Koenisberg, argued that the carving should be removed and placed in a museum “alongside clear historical context about anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages”.

Johannes Block, the church’s pastor, said that having the carving remain on the wall filled him “with shame and pain” but that the church is “trying to deal with this difficult inheritance responsibly”. The church recently erected an information board which seeks to explain the historical background to the carving alongside a plaque remembering the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It wants the carving to serve as a reminder of the anti-Semitism of the Middle Ages and the anti-Semitic nature of Luther’s theology.

On Tuesday (4 February), the regional appeals court of Saxony-Anhalt in Naumburg ruled that the “Judensau” did not constitute an offence. The court held that “the sculpture in its current context has neither an insulting character, nor does it violate the plaintiff’s personal rights”. It found that the church’s information board and plaque clearly stated that the parish “distanced itself from the persecution of Jews, the anti-Judaic writings of Martin Luther and the mocking aim of the defamatory sculpture”.

Düllman will appeal his case in Germany’s Federal Court of Justice and said he was prepared to take his fight to the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, Germany is endeavouring to tackle a surge in anti-Semitism across the country by increasing campaigns to raise awareness, implementing stricter laws against online hate speech and introducing more robust rules on gun ownership.


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