The religious authorities and the historians quarrel in Germany on the fate of a bas-relief dating from 1305. The sculpture on the facade of the town church of Wittenberg, in Saxony-Anhalt, has a sow suckling jews, and a rabbi examining the rump of the animal. It is a common representation of the world germanic medieval called “Judensau”, or “sow of the Jews”.

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In 2016, a petition was launched by the theologian british Richard Harvey to request the removal of the sculpture, initiating a debate that has not subsided since. On may 24, the district court of Dessau-Roßlau has rejected the application submitted by Michael Düllmann, which called for the withdrawal of the bas-relief. A decision which Düllmann has decided to appeal, according to his lawyer.

Some christian leaders germans did oppose, however, not to the removal of the sculpture. In a press release, dr. Irmgard Schwaetzer, president of the synod of the evangelical Church of Germany, has proposed to integrate the “Judensau” of Wittenberg to a new memorial, in front of the church of Wittenberg. According to it, the sculpture expresses “the pure hate of the jews” which had been going on at the time, a “hate” to remember and to distance themselves. “We must think of the feelings felt by our jewish brothers and sisters when they discover this historical place,” explains dr. Irmgard Schwaetzer.

A piece of History

The political world also seized with the case, become very media in Germany. The symbol is strong in the city of Martin Luther, the starting point of the protestant reformation. Luther himself, a fervent anti-semite, had made a description hate of the sculpture, claiming that the rabbi was attempting to read the Talmud in the back of the sow. In 2017, the municipal council of Wittenberg has positioned itself in favour of the maintenance of the “Judensau”, taking the advantage of the defence of German history. The city has also set before the bronze plaque in memory of the jews killed during the Second world War, installed in 1988 on the ground, under the bas-relief.

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In an interview with radio Deutschlandfunk, may 28, Insa Christiane Hennen, phd in philosophy at the university of Wittenberg, was of the view that “the problems of anti-semitism today can only be resolved by eliminating the medieval objects”. “As an art historian and curator, I can only plead for it to remain as well, complete does it. Of course, it is very important that these images are explained so as to thus allow for a historical distance.”

In all, thirty of the “Judensau” still exist in Europe, mainly in Germany. Three are identified in France, in regions that have been under germanic influence during the Middle Ages. One is perched in the chapel of Our Lady of Carmel, in the cathedral of Metz. The other two are located in Colmar: one on the facade of the cathedral, the other in the form of a gargoyle at the collegiate church Saint-Martin.