German church told to remove antisemitic Judensau carving

The sculpture is on the wall of the Stadtkirche, where Protestant reformer Martin Luther preached


A German church has been urged to remove a controversial antisemitic sculpture.

The 13th century "Judensau" or "Jew Sow" on Wittenberg town church depicts a caricature of a rabbi lifting the tail of a sow and two Jewish children suckling on the teats. 

However, Felix Klein, the German government commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight against Antisemitism, said its presence made the city unwelcoming for Jews.

The plea comes as the eastern Germany city is being considered as the location for a new German Israeli youth organisation. This organisation would oversee the planned intensification of the long-standing youth exchange between the two countries, administered through ‘Conact’. 

The Israeli and German governments announced plans for the new organisation last year. The German Ministry of Youth said the exchanges were intended to take youth policy cooperation between Germany and Israel to a new level.

The memory of the Holocaust, but also common challenges of young people such as climate change or renewable energies should be the subject of cooperation.

At the time, it was discussed using existing coordination offices for the youth exchange schemes in Germany and Israel. The German coordination office "Conact" has been located in Wittenberg since it was founded in 2001. 

Klein said: “A city in which hostility to Jews is so openly displayed with the Judensau on the church cannot be a place of welcome for Jewish Israelis.

“For Wittenberg to become the base of the German-Israeli Youth Exchange, the antisemitic Jew-sow must be removed.”

The Wittenberg stone carving is one of about two dozen similar sculptures from the Middle Ages that still feature on churches around Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Wittenberg was also the town where Martin Luther is said to have nailed his theses challenging Catholicism to a church door in 1517 which led to the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

The Judensau was built into the southeast corner of the church in about 1290. The Latin-Hebrew words “Rabini Schem haMphoras” were added in the 16th century, an allusion to two polemics in which Luther deplored Jews as the “Devil’s people” and a “plague and a pestilence” on Christendom.

Michael Dietrich Düllman has been fighting a long legal campaign to force church bosses to remove the sculpture. He argues it is an insult to all Jews.

However, in June, the Federal Court of Justice, Germany’s top appeals court, upheld rulings from lower courts which dismissed the case.

The court ruled the sculpture could stay on the facade of the church. However, the judge agreed with Düllmann the Judensau was a “massively defamatory statement to the Jewish people and their faith” and an “expression of antisemitism and hatred”.

The Evangelical Academy of Saxony-Anhalt in Wittenberg, which is responsible for the church, hit back at the criticism. 

Director Christoph Maier said: “The bilateral negotiations between Germany and Israel are sensitive and are currently making slow progress, also due to the domestic political situation in Israel.

"A location debate in Germany is not conducive to the cause and comes at the wrong time for the already difficult political constellation."

Additional reporting by Rob Hyde from Germany

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