The anti-Jewish depiction of pigs can remain: The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) decided on Tuesday that a sandstone relief from the 13th century called “Judensau” at the town church in Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt does not have to be removed. The top civil judges in Germany found on Tuesday in Karlsruhe (Az. VI ZR 172/20) that the parish had converted the “shame” into a “memorial” with a floor plate and a display with explanatory text. A decision that met with criticism and incomprehension.
Not only with plaintiff Dietrich Düllmann, who according to his own statements converted to Judaism in 1978 and has called himself Michael ever since. Neither the BGH nor the two lower courts really took the “propagandistic effect, the poisoning effect on society seriously,” he told the German Press Agency. “There is still a lot to do.” He now wants to go before the Federal Constitutional Court.
Christoph Heubner from the International Auschwitz Committee explained: “Today’s judgment of the Federal Court of Justice is not only disappointing for survivors of the Holocaust.” and it upsets them,” said Heubner. “The admonishing words and signs that surround the anti-Jewish relief today and rededicate it as a memorial do not change that.”
The Wittenberg town church is considered the mother church of the Reformation. Martin Luther (1483-1546), who later came under criticism for his anti-Semitic statements, preached here.
On the other hand, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, considers the BGH’s decision to be understandable that the relief can remain. “However, I am not able to follow the reasoning of the BGH insofar as in my opinion neither the base plate nor the explanatory inclined display contain an unequivocal condemnation of the anti-Jewish imagery.” From Schuster’s point of view, the church should clearly admit its guilt and condemn its centuries-old anti-Judaism .
The relief shows a sow whose teats are being suckled by two people who are supposed to be identified as Jews by their pointed hats. According to the BGH, a figure considered a rabbi lifts the tail of the animal and looks into the anus. In the Jewish faith, pigs are considered unclean.
The explanatory plaque on the church says that representations of this type were particularly widespread in the Middle Ages. “There are still about fifty such images.” The Central Council of Jews has no reliable information about the total number of such representations. However, nothing is known there about other legal disputes that could be based on the BGH judgment.
Until the base plate and stand were added in the 1980s, the image had a “massively defamatory statement” about the Jewish people and their religion and expressed anti-Semitism and hatred, according to the BGH ruling. The presiding judge of the sixth civil senate, Stephan Seiters said at the oral hearing two weeks ago that the relief in itself was “anti-Semitism set in stone”.
However, the BGH also made it clear that even if the previous classifications were not sufficient, the plaintiff could not demand the removal of the relief. The church would have several options to eliminate “the state of disorder.”
Reliable support in legal conflicts.
From Schuster’s point of view, a clear mandate: “Both the Wittenberg parish and the churches as a whole must find a clear and appropriate solution for dealing with anti-Jewish sculptures. The defamation of Jews by the churches must be a thing of the past once and for all.” According to the Central Council, there are successful examples at Regensburg Cathedral and at the Knights’ Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Bad Wimpfen near Heilbronn.
The regional bishop of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, Friedrich Kramer, announced that something would happen in Wittenberg: “There is consensus that the current information board and the memorial in the form of a floor slab no longer meet the requirements of the anti-Jewish abusive plastic breaking on the facade.” The regional church will support the city parish in the further development of the memorial site.
Dealing with anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic, but also from today’s perspective racist relics of the past is not only an issue for churches. Museums, for example, are also increasingly asking the question and supplementing exhibits with explanatory panels, for example, or deliberately turning works of art upside down. In biology, on the other hand, animal names have already been changed in order to remove parts of names from colonial times, for example.
Plaintiff Düllmann is not disappointed despite the renewed defeat, as he said. The process has given the subject the attention it deserves. “A lot has already been done.”