Anti-Semitic ecclesiastical sculpture may remain, Germany’s highest appeals court rules


Written by Lianne Kolirin, CNN

Germany’s highest appeals court has ruled that a medieval sculpture on the outside of a church in Wittenberg, eastern Germany, may remain, even though it recognizes it as anti-Semitic.

The sandstone carving, which has been part of the exterior of the Wittenbergse Stadtkirche — or town church — since about 1290, depicts two people identified as Jews by their pointed hats and suckling a pig — considered unclean in the Jewish religion. Another man, a caricature of a rabbi, lifts the pigtail and looks into her behind.

The case was brought by Michael Dietrich Düllmann, a 79-year-old retired psychiatric nurse who converted to Judaism in the 1970s. Düllmann has long campaigned for the removal of the “Judensau” or “Jewish sow”, which he says is not only offensive but also “dangerous” at a time when politicians are warning of rising anti-Semitism in Germany.

Wittenberg is the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation and where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of a Catholic church in 1517. – Luther’s Semitic text — was placed above the carving of the sow.

Düllmann has been fighting a legal battle for years to remove the carving, which is located about 4 meters above the ground.

But on Tuesday, the Federal Court of Justice upheld lower court rulings that dismissed the case, saying there was no violation of the law.

It acknowledged that the nature of the statue was offensive until November 1988, when a bronze plaque was installed as part of the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Nazis burned and destroyed Jewish properties across Germany.

Luther’s writings and other examples of anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany over the centuries are listed on the plaque, along with a reference to the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Düllmann told CNN his latest defeat in court was “outrageous”, and said he now plans to appeal to the German constitutional court.

Düllmann said by phone from Bonn that the court’s decision was an “underestimation of the real danger” of the sculpture.

“You can’t neutralize it by putting a simple plaque next to it of what it means,” he told CNN, adding that such “propaganda” can be found in more than 30 churches across Germany today.

“The Judensau isn’t just an insult, it’s so much more — it’s a call to kill the Jews,” he said.

“No institution except the church, and no person but Martin Luther, did more to prepare the German people for Auschwitz. Auschwitz did not emerge from a vacuum. It was the result of centuries of agitation against the Jews.”

He said rising anti-Semitism is a “real danger” in Germany today and far-right protesters have appeared at every court hearing he has had to date.

“I am very concerned about the situation here and I think the intellectuals and politicians underestimate the dangers. They are willing to make concessions to the right wing.”

Determined to fight on, he added: “My will is to go to the Constitutional Court and to continue fighting this and if I lose, I will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Josef Schuster, the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on his organization’s website that the statement was “understandable”, but added that “neither the base plate nor the explanatory oblique display is an unequivocal condemnation of the anti -Jewish work”. of art.”

He said: “Both the Wittenberg church community and the churches as a whole must find a clear and appropriate solution to dealing with sculptures hostile to Jews. Defamation of Jews by churches must be a thing of the past once and for all. “

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