German court rejects call to remove anti-Semitic church carving

A court in central Germany on Tuesday rejected a case calling for a Wittenberg church associated with Protestant firebrand Martin Luther to remove an ancient anti-Semitic carving from its wall.

German court rejects call to remove anti-Semitic church carving
Market square in Wittenberg. Photo: DPA

Widely known the as “Judensau” (Jews' sow), the 13th-century bas relief on the church in eastern German town Wittenberg depicts a rabbi peering into a pig's anus, while other figures suckle milk from its teats.

The hateful symbolism is that Jews obtain their sustenance and scripture from an unclean animal.

A panel of judges at Saxony-Anhalt state's superior court in Naumburg found the image “did not harm Jews' reputation” because it was “embedded” in a wider memorial context, presiding judge Volker Buchloh said, according to regional broadcaster MDR.

After failing at a lower court with his claim that the sculpture was insulting to Jews and should be removed, a local Jewish man had appealed the decision.

Announcing Tuesday's ruling, Buchloh said “anyone looking at the relief cannot fail to see the memorial and the information sign the parish put up in 1988,” placing it in the proper context.

Johannes Block, the pastor at the Wittenberg Stadtkirche (City Church), told Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday that the image was a “repulsive and tasteless” attack on Jews that “fills me with shame and pain”.

“We did not ask for this sculpture, but are trying to handle this difficult inheritance responsibly,” he added, saying he was in talks with Germany's Central Jewish Council on how to update the memorial.

Many churches in the Middle Ages had similar “Judensau” carvings, which were also aimed at sending the stark message that Jews were not welcome in their communities.

READ ALSO: How 'Luther town' is cashing in on the Protestant Reformation

The carving in Wittenberg. Photo: DPA

Another example can be seen at the world-famous Cologne cathedral.

But the importance of the Wittenberg relief is tied to Luther, himself a notorious anti-Semite, who preached there two centuries later.

It was in Wittenberg that Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses to another church's door in 1517, leading to a split with the Roman Catholic Church and the birth of Protestantism.

The theologian argued that Christians could not buy or earn their way into heaven but only entered by the grace of God, marking a turning point in Christian thinking.

But Luther also came to be linked to Germany's darkest history, as his later sermons and writings were marked by anti-Semitism – something that the Nazis would later use to justify their brutal persecution of the Jews.

The superior court's decision not to order the relief removed can still be appealed to Germany's highest court, the Federal Court of Justice.

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Outrage in Germany after remains of neo-Nazi buried in empty Jewish grave

The burial of a known neo-Nazi's ashes in the former grave of a Jewish musical scholar has sparked outrage in Germany, and prompted Berlin's anti-Semitism official to file a criminal complaint.

Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th.
Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

The remains of the neo-Nazi were buried at the grave of Max Friedlaender in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, with several figures from the extreme-right scene in attendance at the funeral on Friday.

Samuel Salzborn, anti-Semitism official for Berlin, said late Tuesday that he had filed a criminal complaint because “the intention here is obvious – the right-wing extremists deliberately chose a Jewish grave to disturb the peace of the dead by burying a Holocaust denier there”.

He added that “it must now be quickly examined how quickly the Holocaust denier can be reburied in order to no longer disturb the dignified memory of Max Friedlaender”.

Friedlaender died in 1934 – when Adolf Hitler was already in power – and was buried in the graveyard as his religion was given as ‘Protestant’ in the burial registration slip

His grave was cleared upon expiration in 1980 and opened up for new burials, under common practice for plots after a certain amount of time has passed.

Friedlaender’s gravestone however remains standing as the entire cemetery is protected under monument conservative rules.


The Protestant Church managing the graveyard voiced dismay at the incident.

In a statement, it said it had accepted the request for burial at the empty grave because “everyone has a right for a final resting place”.

“Nevertheless, the choice of the former grave of Max Friedlaender is a mistake. We are looking into this mistake now,” the church said in a statement.

At the funeral, a black cloth was laid over Friedlaender’s tombstone while wreathes and ribbons bearing the Nazi-era iron cross symbol were laid on the grave for the neo-Nazi Henry Hafenmayer.

Prominent Holocaust denier Horst Mahler, who has been convicted for incitement, was among dozens at the funeral.

Police deployed at the funeral were able to arrest a fugitive from the far-right scene there, German media reported.

Several war graves stand at the cemetery at Stahnsdorf, and these sites are known in far-right circles, the Protestant church administrating the graveyard admitted.

It added that it has worked closely with police to hinder several neo-Nazi marches there in recent years.

READ ALSO: German hotel workers probed after singer’s anti-Semitism complaint