German high court plans to remove anti-Semitic medieval reliefs from church | News | DW

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (BGH) opened hearings on Monday into the fate of a 700-year-old sandstone relief adorning the facade of the church in the town of Wittenburg, where Martin Luther once preached.

The case was appealed by attorney-plaintiff Michael Düllmann, who argued in lower courts that the sculpture was “libel and insult to the Jewish people”. Düllmann, who converted to Judaism in 1978, has been fighting for the removal of the object since 2018, saying it should be taken to the nearby Luther House museum.

The sculpture is a so-called “judensau” (Jewish sow) motif, in this case depicting a man in a rabbi’s garb lifting the tail of a pig – which is considered an unclean animal in Judaism – and inspecting its anus, while other characters suck her breasts. In 1570, after the Protestant Reformation, a textual inscription referring to Luther’s anti-Jewish writings was added to the 13th century sculpture.

Düllmann, 79, said: “The Church prepared the German people for Auschwitz. He also called Wittenberg’s own Martin Luther (1483-1546) an “arch-anti-Semite”.

Judge calls sculpture ‘anti-Semitism carved in stone’

Although a lower court in the city of Naumburg concluded that the sculpture was not “defamatory” in its current context and that Düllmann’s rights as a citizen were not infringed by it, BGH judge Stephan Seiters called the relief “anti-Semitism, carved in stone,” and noted that as a Jew living in post-Holocaust Germany, Düllmann was well within his rights to call for its removal.

Seiters added that the court must decide whether the information plaque mounted under the sculpture in 1988 should be “converted into a memorial”. The plaque, which features text in German and English, refers to the persecution of European Jews and the six million people who died in the Holocaust.

The sculpture itself was restored in 2017 and sits about four meters (13 feet) above street level.

Judge Seiters noted that the court would also be tasked with determining whether the church had in fact done enough to distance itself from the anti-Semitic intent of the original remedy: “We must also determine whether an insult remains an insult, regardless of any new context in which it is placed.

The parish of Wittenberg says it has indeed distanced itself from the sculpture’s message, with pastor Matthias Keilholz saying: “Over the centuries we needed a thorn in our side to repeatedly find new ways to deal with hatred of Jews and the Church. role in it. The parish called the “Wittenberger Judensau” part of a “difficult legacy, but also a testimony to history.”

Jewish leader Schuster: Removing a shameful object would only make it invisible

Parish president Jörg Bielig said the church intends to explain the object and its historical context more clearly. Yet Düllmann argued against such an approach, saying explanatory texts will only serve to confuse readers and minimize the true role of the Church in promoting anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, Düllmann calls on German churches to accept their historical responsibility for the persecution of Jews and to remove these sculptures, otherwise “the anti-Judaism of the church simply continues”.

“The anti-Jewish history of the Church cannot be undone,” said Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, who suggested that an explanatory text would indeed be preferable to the removal of the shameful object, which would only make it invisible. .

Christian Staffa, representative of anti-Semitism for the Protestant Church in Germany, pointed out that the question of what to do with the sculpture could not be decided by a court but rather had to be negotiated within the framework of a debate audience.

It is estimated that there are up to 50 such representations in churches in Germany and Europe.

The BGH, Germany’s highest civil court, said it expected to issue a verdict on the case by June 14.

Düllmann said he would take the case to Germany’s Constitutional Court and even to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if he did not win a court victory at the BGH.

js/jsi (AP, dpa, KNA)

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