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ANTI-SEMITISIM

Anti-Semitic church carving can stay, German court rules

Germany's highest court on Tuesday rejected a case calling for a local church associated with Protestant firebrand Martin Luther to remove an ancient anti Semitic carving from its wall.

Judensau Stadtkirche Wittenberg
The anti-semitic 'Judensau' carving on the site of the famous Wittenberg Stadtkirche. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

Widely known as the “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 local Jewish man had appealed to the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe after a local court rejected his claim that the sculpture was insulting to Jews and should be removed.

Although the court agreed that the content of the carving was offensive, it found that the church had taken sufficient steps to counter this by installing a memorial and information board.

READ ALSO: Anti-Semitism ‘massive problem’ in Germany, says Jewish leader on terror attack anniversary

The carving was “anti-Semitism carved in stone”, the court said, but the memorial and information board had enabled “clarification and a discussion of the content… in order to counter exclusion, hatred and defamation”.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, said the ruling was “understandable”.

However, he said he disagreed with the court’s reasoning insofar as “in my opinion, neither the memorial nor the information board contain an unambiguous condemnation of the anti-Semitic artwork”.

“Both the Wittenberg church community and churches as a whole must find a clear and appropriate solution for dealing with sculptures that are hostile to Jews,” he added.

Luther’s legacy

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.

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 court’s decision not to order the relief to be removed can still be appealed to Germany’s constitutional court.

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

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DISCRIMINATION

German vice-chancellor backs armband protest at World Cup

Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck counselled the German men's national team to wear the "OneLove" armband banned by FIFA as they prepare to face Japan at the World Cup on Wednesday.

German vice-chancellor backs armband protest at World Cup

“I suppose you have to wear the armband now. I would maybe take my chances,” Habeck told German public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.  “I would be interested to see what the referee does when someone with the armband comes over.”

The rainbow armbands had been viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in World Cup host Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

Captains of several European teams had planned to wear the symbol as part of a campaign for diversity during the tournament hosted by Qatar, but they have backed down over the threat of disciplinary action from FIFA, world football’s governing body.

The teams have however come under fire at home for failing to take a stronger stand against FIFA’s stance on the armbands.

READ ALSO: Germany turns rainbow-coloured in protest at UEFA stadium ban

Amid the criticism, national team director Oliver Bierhoff suggested that some action by the German players may be possible.

“We will see. This has preoccupied the players a lot,” he told public broadcaster ARD on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who will attend the Germans’ opening game in the Qatari capital Doha, said FIFA’s ban was a “huge mistake”.

Not only players, but fans too should be allowed to show pro-LGBTQ symbols “openly”, she told reporters in Qatar Wednesday.

Security staff at the tournament have ordered spectators to remove items of clothing featuring rainbow logos.

Supporters should “make a decision for themselves” about whether they wanted to wear the symbols, Faeser said.

Meanwhile, Germany’s top-selling Bild daily also urged the German team to make a public stand for diversity.

In a commentary, it said the “courage trophy” can be won by those “who give this World Cup back its dignity”.

“A team that wears the ‘OneLove’ armband and that doesn’t simply cave in. A fan terrace that appears in rainbow colours, a sportsman who turns his national anthem in a song that honours both his country and freedom,” it said.

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