Der Sündenbock has a similar meaning to the English “scapegoat” or “fall guy” and is used to call someone who is always (and usually unjustifiably) blamed for all mistakes and problems – or a person who voluntarily takes the blame.
Similar to the English phrase, der Bock often translates to a billy goat, although it can also be used to refer to the male of various mammals. Die Sünde translates to sin.
Sündenbock has a biblical origin, having been coined by Martin Luther in his translation of the bible.
On the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the day of the forgiveness of sins, the high priest proclaimed the sins of the people and passed them on to a goat by laying his hand on him. The goat was then driven into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people and redeem them.
Nowadays the scapegoat is used in a figurative sense. Whoever is made the scapegoat must therefore metaphorically carry away the sins of others.
Another German phrase originated from this story, jemanden in die Wüste schicken (to send someone into the desert), although it tends to mean being kicked out of a company or someone leaving their significant other.
Der Sündenbock does not necessarily signify a single person, instead, entire groups of people can be attributed to the role.
Religious groups have often been the victims of scapegoating, such as Jewish people throughout Nazi Germany. Refugees and immigrants have also been used as scapegoats for a country’s economic problems.
A word used similarly in German is der Prügelknabe (whipping boy), describing someone who receives blame or punishment for another’s wrongdoing.
Jemanden zum Sündenbock machen.
To make someone the scapegoat.
Ich lasse mich nicht zum Sündenbock machen.
I will not be made a scapegoat.