German federal court plans to remove anti-Semitic relic

BERLIN– A German federal court on Monday pondered a Jewish man’s attempt to force the removal of a 700-year-old anti-Semitic statue from a church where Martin Luther once preached, and said it would deliver its verdict within the long-standing dispute next month.

The “Judensau” or “Jewish pig” sculpture on the town church in Wittenberg is one of more than 20 relics from the Middle Ages that still adorn churches in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The case came to the Federal Court of Justice after lower courts ruled in 2019 and 2020 against plaintiff Michael Duellmann. He had argued that the sculpture was “a defamation and insult to the Jewish people” which has “terrible effect to this day”, and suggested moving it to the nearby Luther House museum.

Placed on the church about four meters (13 feet) above ground level, the sculpture depicts people identifiable as Jews suckling a sow’s teats 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.

In 1988, a memorial was erected in the ground below, referring to the persecution of Jews and the 6 million people who died in the Holocaust. In addition, a sign gives information about the sculpture in German and English.

In 2020, a Naumburg appellate court ruled that “in its current context” the sculpture was not “defamatory” and did not violate the plaintiff’s rights. He said that with the addition of the memorial and information panel, the statue is now “part of a whole that speaks for another purpose” on the part of the parish.

Presiding judge Stephan Seiters told Monday’s hearing that, viewed individually, the statue is “anti-Semitism set in stone”, German news agency dpa reported.

However, later additions and context will likely also be a key factor in his court’s decision. Duellmann’s attorney argued that the information on the sign was not sufficient and that the depiction of a pig was a sign of hate even when displayed.

The federal court, based in the southwestern city of Karlsruhe, plans to announce its decision on June 14.

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