BERLIN (JTA) — A one-man effort to remove a medieval anti-Jewish sculpture from public view in Germany has failed.
The Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe announced on Tuesday that St. Marien’s Church in Wittenberg did not have to remove the sculpture “Judensau” – Jew Sow – from its facade, since the church administration had distanced itself sufficiently of the original anti-Semitic intention.
The Judensau is a medieval Christian folk image that depicts Jews suckling a pig’s teats, looking into its anus, or, in the case of the Wittenberg relief, both.
Michael Duellmann, who is Jewish and argued the case in lower courts, has pledged to take his fight to the next level, before Germany’s highest human rights court. These sculptures are “much more than just an insult”, he said in a telephone interview. “They are an incitement to murder.”
Placed inside or on the facade of churches, the statues were intended to teach lessons about sin and virtue. The Wittenberg relief, which dates to the year 1290, is perched about 13 feet on the front of the church. The city is famous for being the place where Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation began in the 15e century.
Duellmann, 79, had demanded the sandstone relief be removed because it was defamatory to himself and to Judaism in general. After losing his case in district court and on appeal, he took it to Germany’s highest criminal and civil court two years ago, where he lost.
Duellmann’s options now include taking the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, which handles human rights cases, attorney Ludwig Benecke told the Jewish Telegraph Agency. The basis of such a lawsuit would be that such sculptures “insult the dignity of the human being”, which is contrary to German basic law.
Speaking on behalf of the Lichtenfels-based law firm that advised Duellmann throughout the process, Benecke explained that it might be necessary to hire a lawyer with experience in pleading before the Constitutional Court.
The process could take a long time, he said, but “I think [Duellmann] has enough energy to pass it.
If the Constitutional Court fails to take it up, the case could be taken to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg or the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Benecke said.
In delivering the verdict on Tuesday, the presiding judge, Stephan Seiters, said there was no “present infringement” on Duellmann’s civil rights, since the church had already installed an explanatory plaque, publicly distancing himself and clearly of the original anti-Semitic intentions.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Central Council of Jews in Germany said it was disappointed with the decision.
The explanatory display does not “unambiguously condemn anti-Jewish sculpture,” said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council. To truly distance itself, “the church should clearly recognize its own guilt and condemn its age-old anti-Judaism” — something Schuster said he hopes this church and others in Germany will finally do.
“The defamation of Jews by churches must be a thing of the past,” he said.
The sculptures are expected to fall all together, Charlotte Knobloch, a former chair of the Central Council and longtime leader of the Jewish community in Munich and Upper Bavaria, said in a press release Tuesday.
“I had very much hoped for a different decision,” added Knobloch. “As the presiding judge himself has said before, this relief is ‘anti-Semitism set in stone’.”
Duellmann told JTA that while he was disappointed with the verdict, he was glad his public challenge sparked a conversation about historical and modern anti-Semitism in Germany.
There are about 40 Judensau sculptures in Germany, the oldest dating from the 13th century. Most are found in the form of reliefs or gargoyles. Early versions were placed indoors where Jews would not see them, but eventually churches placed them outdoors as well.