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December 9, 2020 11:54 am

Medieval Antisemitic Carvings on German Churches Should Be Explained, Not Removed, Expert Panel Recommends

avatar by Ben Cohen

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

Gruesome antisemitic statues and carvings on churches in the German state of Bavaria dating from the medieval period should not be removed, but “visibly and easily” explained by accompanying information, a panel of Jewish representatives, church officials and members of the government examining the problem concluded this week.

The panel’s findings regarding what it deemed to be “particularly disgusting phenomena” were presented on Tuesday by Ludwig Spaenle, the Bavarian state’s commissioner tasked with combating antisemitism.

At the center of the debate is the ongoing presence of the so-called “Judensau” — a medieval anti-Jewish trope that mocked the Jewish prohibition on pork by showing Jews on their knees while suckling a pig.

A dozen examples of “Judensau” sculptures are still visible on the outer edifices of churches in Bavaria, including one emblazoned on the south side of the famous cathedral in the city of Regensburg.

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An information board at the cathedral was criticized by the panel for not emphasizing the anti-Jewish nature of the sculpture. The text currently on display describes the “Judensau” as a “mockery in stone” from a “bygone” era, commenting only that the sculpture’s “anti-Jewish content is strange to today’s observer.”

The panel recommended against the physical removal of the statues, arguing instead for clearly-marked, visually-strong explanations of the display to be written by experts on antisemitism. They emphasized that such explanations would also serve as a valuable tool for combating modern-day antisemitism.

About 50 churches in Germany as a whole are adorned with “Judensau” sculptures.

In February this year, Michael Düllmann — a 77-year-old member of Berlin’s Jewish community — lost a court case seeking the removal of a 700-year-old carving of a “Judensau” on the wall of St. Mary’s Church in the historic city of Wittenberg.

The court deemed that the presence at the church of both a memorial to the Nazi Holocaust and an information board that explained the “Judensau” as part of the history of antisemitism justified the retention of the carving.

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