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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German watchdog reports ‘alarming’ number of discrimination complaints

Germany’s federal Anti-Discrimination Agency received 5,617 complaints in 2021 - the second-highest number since its founding in 2006.

German watchdog reports 'alarming' number of discrimination complaints

Instances of discrimination, particularly those involving racism, remain at historically high levels in Germany.

That’s according to a report released on Tuesday by Germany’s federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, which presented its figures from 2021.

The Antidiskriminierungsstelle (ADS), which was founded in 2006, provides counselling and advice to complainants, while conducting research and reporting on discrimination in Germany to the federal parliament.

The report released on Tuesday reveals that 2021 saw the second-highest annual number of complaints in the agency’s history. 2020 saw the highest number of complaints, with 6,383 instances reported.

“The number is alarming,” said agency head Ferda Ataman. 

Ataman brought up several examples during her press conference. “A wheelchair user reported to us that they weren’t allowed to board a bus, even though the bus was wheelchair accessible and there were enough places on it,” Ataman said. “A young woman reported to us that she was asked in a job interview when she wanted to become pregnant, even though asking that question isn’t allowed. A lesbian couple reported they were turned down for a home.”

Racism complaints made up the single largest share of cases – accounting for 37 percent of all complaints to ADS in 2021.

READ ALSO: What Germans really think about the country’s racism problem

Complaints related to disability and chronic illness accounted for 32 percent of cases, followed by sex (20 percent), age (10 percent), religion (6 percent), sexual orientation (4 percent) and worldview (3 percent).

As for where the incidents occurred, a third involved complaints from people who were denied access to private services, such as shops, supermarkets, or restaurants. 28 percent related to discrimination people faced in the workplace.

More than a third of cases, however, occurred in places where the government’s anti-discrimination law only partially applies. These include within the police, in court, in education, or in open public spaces.

“Unfortunately, discrimination is still part of everyday life in Germany,” said Ataman.

Among other measures, Ataman called for a reform of German anti-discrimination law to cover more areas and give people longer than eight weeks to report an incident. She also called for more offices where people could file complaints.