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Thursday, 11 Aug 2022

Wittenberg: Anti-Semitism set in stone

Inschrift: „Gottes eigentlicher Name / der geschmähte Schem Ha Mphoras / den die Juden vor den Christen / fast unsagbar heilig hielten / starb in sechs Millionen Juden / unter einem Kreuzeszeichen.“ Psalm 130: „Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir“.

For a long time, a particularly drastic anti-Semitic depiction has been causing controversy. At the town church of Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the so-called "Judensau," a sandstone relief from the 13th century, is clearly visible. It shows men in pointed hats, Jews sucking on the teats of a pig. A rabbi lifts the animal's tail. Above it is read "Rabini Shem Hamphoras," which is a designation for God.

Most recently, the Federal Supreme Court ruled the sculpture did not have to be removed. "However, the defendant [church congregation] remedied the infringing condition, which existed in any case until November 11, 1988, by unveiling under the relief a base plate cast in bronze with the inscription shown above, which could not be overlooked under the local conditions, and by placing in the immediate vicinity of it an inclined display with the heading 'Memorial at the City Church of Wittenberg', which explains the historical background of the relief and the bronze plate in more detail," the ruling said. Thus, according to the Federal Supreme Court, the monument of shame had become a memorial for the "purpose of commemorating and remembering the centuries of discrimination and persecution of Jews up to the Shoah" and thus one had distanced oneself from the anti-Semitic statement.

The text on the base plate links the inscription of the vituperative sculpture to the Holocaust: "God's very name / the reviled Shem Ha Mphoras / whom the Jews held sacred before the Christians / almost unspeakably / died in six million Jews / under a sign of the cross." To this is written in Hebrew the beginning of Psalm 130: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord."


Martin Luther's Anti-Semitism


Andreas Nachama, rabbi of the House of One, does not want to be satisfied with this. The Advisory Board for the Further Development of the Place of Remembrance, of which Nachama is a member, has recommended that the sculpture be removed. The relief should no longer be displayed in public, but in a protected space. In this way, he says, a kind of learning space could be created within the Wittenberg city church ensemble.

Andreas Nachama says, with a critical eye on the role assigned to him, "I have the impression that one would like to have Jewish voices on the handling of the Saus sculpture at the Wittenberg City Church, who don't think it's all so bad, to leave it as it is." The rabbi is also disturbed by the Christian side's reasoning that removing the relief would be tantamount to banning images. "For Jews, Bilderverbot means the prohibition of the image of God alone. Christians, however, misuse the term. Who wanted to forbid Christians to continue their 2000-year-old tradition of anti-Jewish polemics. They should be disgusted by it themselves."

The inscription "Rabini Shem HaMphoras," mentioned earlier, was added in 1570, almost 300 years after the depiction was made and thus after Luther's Reformation. The designation alludes to a letter speculation of the Kabbalah and is considered the name of God.

In the Deutsches Pfarrblatt, Friedhelm Pieper, a pastor and, like Nachama, a member of the presidium of the German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, wrote:

"Luther's hostility to the Jews has thus been visibly carved in stone for centuries in the sculpture of the Wittenberg church sow. When I see this mockery of God's name, it is incomprehensible to me how services can be celebrated and the Lord's Prayer prayed in the Wittenberg City Church today. I can't. I cannot pray "Hallowed be Thy Name" in the City Church of Wittenberg as long as the mockery and contempt of God's name continues to be carved in stone on its outer wall."


Horrible blasphemy


Still, many believe it is possible the sculpture could ultimately be left on the church wall. Andreas Nachama fears it could be said, after all, it is a tourist attraction and it is under monument protection after all. "And probably also that Jews were involved in this solution to the problem after all. How nice...," Nachama said.

Gradually, some positions on the Christian side are changing. Wittenberg's pastor Alexander Garth, for example, is now also in favor of removal. Speaking to House of One recently, Garth said, "The Jewish voice is the most important one for me here." He said it is a sculpture of invective, a vile insult to all Jews and their religion. "It's horrible blasphemy. Something like that just doesn't belong on a church."

The parish church council will meet for its next session at the end of August, and dealing with the artwork will be the most important item on the agenda there.

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