WITTENBERG – High on the wall of a German church where Martin Luther once preached, an ugly remnant of centuries of anti-Semitism is now at the center of a court battle.
The so-called “Judensau,” or “Jew pig,” sculpture on the Town Church in Wittenberg dates back to around 1300. It is perhaps the best-known of more than 20 such relics from the Middle Ages, in various forms and varying states of repair, that still adorn churches across Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Located about 4 meters (13 feet) above the ground on a corner of the church, it depicts people identifiable by their headwear as Jews suckling on the teats of a sow, while a rabbi lifts the animal’s tail. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, an inscription referring to an anti-Jewish tract by Luther was added.
Judaism considers pigs impure, and no one disputes that the sculpture is deliberately offensive. But there is strong disagreement about what consequences that should have and what to do with the relief.
A court in the eastern city of Naumburg will consider on Tuesday a Jewish man’s bid to make the parish take it down.
It’s the second round in the legal dispute, which comes at a time of mounting concern about anti-Semitism in modern Germany. In May, a court ruled against plaintiff Michael Duellmann, who wants the relief put in the nearby Luther House museum.
Judges in Dessau rejected arguments that he has a right to have the sculpture removed because it formally constitutes slander and the parish is legally responsible for that. Duellmann appealed.
The relief “is a terrible falsification of Judaism ... a defamation of and insult to the Jewish people,” Duellmann says, arguing that it has “a terrible effect up to this day.”