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Germany: Anti-Semitic art allowed to remain on church facade

February 4, 2020

A county court ruled that the offensive medieval artwork is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site and cannot be touched. The Stadtkirche in Wittenberg was the first church to ever hold a mass in German instead of Latin.

The offensive relief outside the Stadtkirche in Wittenberg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt

An anti-Semitic type of medieval artwork commonly known as a 'Judensau' may remain on the wall of the Stadtkirche in the eastern German city of Wittenberg, a district court ruled on Tuesday. The case had been brought by a member of the local Jewish community.

"Judensau" literally means 'Jews' sow' — a highly offensive term — and was common in medieval churches in Germany and other European countries.

The county court in Naumburg argued that the sculpture is part of the ancient building, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and thus cannot be disturbed.

The 'Judensau' in Wittenberg is in the form of a relief, and has been on the facade of the Stadtkirche church since 1305. It depicts a rabbi and other Jewish people underneath a pig, with an inscription featuring a gibberish version of Hebrew.

Martin Luther's church

Martin Luther, the ex-Catholic monk who touched off the Protestant Reformation with his 95 theses, lived in Wittenberg and preached at the church. It became the site of the first-ever celebration of mass in German instead of Latin, which is why UNESCO granted it World Heritage status.

Read more: Martin Luther lives on in the art world

Luther mentions the offensive artwork in Wittenberg specifically in his 1543 book Vom Schem Hamphoras. The deeply anti-Semitic tome compares Jewish people to the devil. The book, along with Luther's other anti-Semitic writings, was later used by the Nazi party to promote anti-Semitism.

The relief in Wittenberg has long been controversial, and in 1988, on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a memorial to the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust was also added to the church in reponse to an outcry about the highly offensive sculpture.

Most churches in Germany that had similar "Judensau" reliefs in the past have gotten rid of them..

Wittenberg: In the footsteps of Martin Luther

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.