Controversy over Carving Continues
A German Jew's request to remove a medieval anti-Semitic carving from a local church has sparked a global controversy over the value of maintaining historic sculptures that are racially or ethnically insulting.
The 13th-century sculpture, which is located on the façade of the Stadkirche, or the Town Church of St. Mary's in Wittenberg, Germany, shows a Jew looking at the asshole of a pig while others suckle on her teats. One of the most well-known examples of a Judensau (“Jew’s sow”), most of such carvings from the time have been removed. Still, over 30 such sculptures still remain to this day on churches throughout Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland.
These sculptures, most of which were carved in the inside of churches and other buildings, were meant to encourage Christians to not follow the examples of Judaism by showing Jews as less than human. The sculptures were also meant to be insulting to Jews, as Jews consider pigs unclean.
The Wittenberg church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it is where the 16th-century theologian Martin Luther held his first mass in German instead of Latin. As such, the church is visited by thousands of tourists every year.
The courts ruled that the carving could remain because its insulting depiction was neutralized, they said, by the WWII Holocaust memorial and information board, which was installed at the foot of the church in the 1980s.
The lawsuit, which was drawn up in 2018, was rejected by the courts in 2019, and then again upon appeal in February 2020. But the publicity of the case has drawn heated debate from all sides. Some believe that the carving should be removed and placed in a museum while others say that as a piece of important (albeit shameful) medieval history, it should remain in place, undamaged.
German Jewish historian Michael Wolffsohn suggested that if the memorial was removed, it would only make the church appear as if it was hiding from the public Martin Luther’s (and the Lutheran Church’s) history of anti-Semitism, as Martin Luther did approve of the sculpture in his writings and letters.
But with anti-Semitism on the rise in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the fate of the sculpture is unclear. The case is now being appealed to the highest civil court in Germany, and if they reject the claim, the authors of the case plan to appeal it to the EU court for human rights. But these appeals may not move forward, as the church is now considering removing the carving… a move that the region’s Lutheran bishop favors.
“I find it unbearable that in a central place for us Protestants, there is a lie on the wall, “said Lutheran bishop Friedrich Kramer. “The monument continues to preach.”