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February 6, 2020 4:02 pm

Jewish Activist Vows to Fight German Court’s Decision to Retain Medieval Antisemitic Carving on World-Famous Church

avatar by Ben Cohen

The carving of the ‘Judensau’ — a medieval antisemitic trope — on the facade of the main church in Wittenberg, Germany. Photo: Reuters / Annegret Hilse.

A German Jewish activist vowed on Thursday to appeal all the way to the European Court of Human Rights after a regional court ruled that an antisemitic carving from the 13th century could remain on the outer wall of a church in the historic city of Wittenberg.

Michael Düllmann — a 77-year-old member of Berlin’s Jewish community — has been campaigning in Germany’s courts since 2018 for the removal of the notorious stone-carved depiction of Jews crowding around a female pig on the wall of Wittenberg’s main church.

Known colloquially as the “Judensau,” the medieval anti-Jewish trope mocked the Jewish prohibition on pork by showing Jews engaged in obscene acts with a pig. The 700-year-old example in Wittenberg positions a smiling rabbi at the rear end of the pig, while two further figures who represent Jews suckle on its teats. An inscription above the carving reads “Rabini Schem Hamphoras” — said by scholars to be a corruption of one of the Hebrew names for God.

During an earlier legal attempt to have the Wittenberg carving removed in 2016, one local Jewish leader characterized the image as “unseemly, obscene, insulting, offensive, libelous, and a portrait of hate speech and antisemitism that defames Jewish people and their faith.”

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However, German judges have so far rejected Düllmann’s argument that the carving should be removed from the church on the grounds that it promoted antisemitism. Last year, the district court of Dessau-Roßlau ruled that the continued presence of the carving did not constitute evidence of “disregard for Jews living in Germany.”

Düllmann’s efforts received another blow on Wednesday when last year’s judgement was upheld by the Naumburg Higher Regional Court. The court deemed that the presence at the church of both a memorial to the Nazi Holocaust and an information board that explains the “Judensau” as part of the history of antisemitism justified retaining the carving.

In response, Düllmann affirmed that he would now launch a further appeal at the Federal Court of Justice, which can overrule the lower courts.

“I will exhaust all legal resources and, if necessary, go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg,” Düllmann told the German news outlet taz.

Some leaders of the Christian faith in Germany have also expressed support for the removal of the carving, which decorates the church where Martin Luther — the founder of Protestantism and an implacable enemy of Judaism — preached in the 16th century.

The central German state bishop, Friedrich Kramer, recently recommended that the relief be removed, while the church’s pastor, Johannes Block, told one news outlet on Thursday that the presence of the carving on the building’s facade “fills me with shame and pain.”

Felix Klein — the top German government official combating antisemitism — renewed his request for the carving to be taken from the church and housed in a museum, where it could be presented in the context of commemorating antisemitic persecution.

Commenting on Wednesday’s court ruling, Klein told taz that he “would be happy if the two large churches in Germany, as well as the Protestant and Catholic parishes concerned, took the judgment as an occasion for a proactive debate to overcome this unfortunate church tradition.”

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