SHARE
COPY LINK

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

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

RACISM

German ex-soldier gets five and a half years for far-right plot

A German court on Friday sentenced a former soldier to five and a half years in prison for plotting a far-right attack on senior politicians while posing as a Syrian refugee.

German ex-soldier gets five and a half years for far-right plot

“The accused is guilty of planning a serious act of violence endangering the state,” presiding judge Christoph Koller said.

The long-delayed trial shone a spotlight on neo-Nazi sympathies in the ranks of the German military and the effectiveness of the security services in standing up to right-wing extremism — described by the interior minister as the biggest threat facing the country.

“It is the first time in post-war Germany that a member of the armed forces stands accused of planning a terrorist attack,” Annette Ramelsberger, veteran court reporter for the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, said ahead of the verdict.

Defendant Franco Albrecht, a 33-year-old father of three, had been in the dock before the regional superior court in the western city of Frankfurt since May 2021.

The Bundeswehr lieutenant was found to have cited cabinet ministers, MPs and a prominent Jewish human rights activist among his potential targets.

“He wanted to stage an attack with a major political impact,” prosecutor Karin Weingast said in closing arguments.

‘Attitude problem’

Albrecht, who has a full beard and wears his long hair tied in a ponytail, told the court he deceived authorities at the height of the 2015-16 migrant influx, in which more than one million asylum seekers entered Germany.

The soldier, the son of a German mother and an estranged Italian immigrant father, posed as a Christian fruit seller from Damascus called David Benjamin.

Albrecht darkened his skin with makeup to pose as a penniless refugee and hoodwinked immigration officials for 15 months, despite speaking no Arabic.

“Neither Arabic nor details about my story were necessary,” Albrecht testified, describing his conversations with immigration authorities.

READ ALSO: Germany stages country-wide raids against ‘neo-Nazi networks’

He was arrested in 2017 while trying to retrieve a Nazi-era pistol he had hidden in a toilet at Vienna’s international airport, and his fraud was discovered when his fingerprints matched two separate identities.

Soon after his arrest, then defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, now European Commission chief, said Albrecht’s case pointed to a much larger “attitude problem” in the German military.

Von der Leyen’s successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer ordered the partial dissolution of the KSK commando force in 2020 after revelations that some of its members harboured neo-Nazi sympathies.

‘Mein Kampf’

The court found that Albrecht planned to use both the pistol and other weapons and explosives he had taken from the German army in order to carry out an attack.

But prosecutors during the trial backed away for lack of evidence from an accusation that he plotted to use his false refugee identity to pin the crime on a Syrian.

Albrecht’s lawyers had called for a suspended sentence based solely on weapons law violations, while prosecutors demanded jail time of six years and three months.

Albrecht, who repeatedly expressed anti-Semitic, racist and hard nationalist views before the court during his trial, testified that then-chancellor Angela Merkel had failed to uphold the constitution by welcoming the refugees.

READ ALSO: Suspected neo-Nazi charged with plotting German ‘race war’

Investigations showed he owned a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” and stated that immigration was a form of “genocide”.

Albrecht had been free on bail as his trial began but was taken back into custody in February of this year when he was found with Nazi memorabilia and further weapons in his possession, including five machetes under his mattress.

By Sarah Maria Brech with Deborah Cole in Berlin

SHOW COMMENTS