Photo Credit: Eigenes Foto via Wikimedia
The Judensau (Jewish Sow) in Wittenberg

Germany’s high court on Tuesday ruled against a plea by a Jewish plaintiff to remove a 700-year-old antisemitic relief from the side of a church in the eastern city of Wittenberg. The decision of the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) brings to an end a long-running dispute over the relief at a church where Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther once preached.

The grotesque, antisemitic, 13th-century relief known as “Judensau” (Jewish Sow), shows Jews suckling on a sow’s teats while a rabbi lifts her tail. The Judensau was common in medieval churches in Germany and other European countries. An estimated 30 Judensau artworks dehumanizing Jews have survived in European churches, most of them in Germany.

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At a preliminary hearing, Supreme Court Justice Stephan Seiters said that the work was “antisemitism chiseled into stone.”

A German Jewish man named Michael Düllmann in 2019 filed a legal complaint and demanded the offensive relief in Wittenberg be removed from the public domain. Düllmann argued that displaying the relief used to be part of the church’s agenda of abusing and insulting Jews. A regional court rejected his complaint, ruling that merely not removing the relief could not be considered an act of abuse on the part of the church.

Düllmann appealed, and the county court in Naumburg in 2020 rejected his appeal, arguing that the relief is part of an ancient building, and noting that both the church and the dehumanizing relief work belong to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus cannot be disturbed.

Düllmann, a member of Berlin’s Jewish community, said the sculpture is “a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people” that has “a terrible effect up to this day,” and suggested moving it to the nearby Luther House Museum.

The reason the Wittenberg church was granted its World Heritage status was that Martin Luther conducted there the first-ever celebration of mass in German instead of Latin. The pig and Jews thing was a bonus.

Luther mentions the Judensau in Wittenberg specifically in his 1543 book Vom Schem Hamphoras, a deeply antisemitic tome equating Jews with the devil. A post-Reformation script describing the relief references Luther’s suggestion that the Rabbi holding up the sow’s tail is studying the Talmud.

Luther’s book was used by the Nazi party to promote antisemitism. So, altogether a worthwhile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bring the whole family.

Back in 2019, Irmgard Schwaetzer, a German politician of the Free Democratic Party and President of the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, issued a statement saying: “The proposal to take down the medieval sculpture and integrate it into a new monument seems convincing to me. It (the relief – DI) expresses pure hatred of Jews. A center of education that finds acceptance beyond the parish should be established here. This also means considering the feelings that this place awakens in our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

Incidentally, in 1988, on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a memorial to the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust was added to the Wittenberg church in response to public outrage about the offensive relief. So now it’s even.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.