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Op-Ed: Efforts Underway To Remove the Anti-Semitic Wittenberg Judensau

Writer Jackie Goodall explains to JOL readers why the anti-Semitic Wittenberg Judensau must be taken down. Goodall states that the defamatory sculpture “is not only insulting to Jews but it is obscene and blasphemous on a Christian place of worship.”
The Wittenberg Judensau Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons

It is a form of anti-Semitism which has been swept under the carpet for decades and the responsibility rests squarely with the Church - Protestant and Catholic alike.

For more than 700 years, on the façade of the Stadtkirche in the German city of Wittenberg, the church where the great Protestant Reformist Martin Luther preached his sermons, an obscene and defamatory sculpture portrays a rabbi peering under a pig’s tail while all around him Jewish children are depicted suckling from its teats. An inscription reads “Rabini Shem Hamphoras,” which presumably bastardizes “Shem ha-Mephorash” or “The fully pronounced Name [of God].”

The Wittenberg Judensau, or Jew-Pig, is one of around sixty grotesque, anti-Semitic sculptures still remaining throughout Europe and Scandinavia. Sometimes found on the exterior walls of churches, others are carved into interior seats and panels. These same images were often depicted as popular illustrations between the 12th and 17th centuries, sometimes showing Jews in sexual positions with pigs, sometimes in consort with the devil, sometimes eating pig’s excrement - teaching the general populace that Jews were sub-human and utterly despicable as well as shaming and blaming them for not believing in Jesus.

In one of Luther’s most defamatory and anti-Semitic books “On the Jews and Their Lies,” he comments: “Here on our church in Wittenberg a sow is sculpted in stone. Young pigs and Jews lie suckling under her. Behind the sow a rabbi is bent over the sow, lifting up her right leg, holding her tail high and looking intensely under her tail and into her Talmud, as though he were reading something acute or extraordinary, which is certainly where they get their Shemamphoras.”

In the same book, he compares their “lies” to pig’s excrement and speaks of Jews as “living in the filth of a pigsty.” Worse still, his subsequent book “Vom Schem Hamphoras” (“On the Holy Name of God”), mirrors the inscription over the Judensau at Wittenberg and ridicules the name of God. An attempt was made in 1988 to address this by placing an explanation and commemorative plaque beneath the sculpture but it is not enough.

It is ironic then that when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of that church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, an event that resulted in him being excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Pope Leo X and which officially launched the Protestant Reformation, Luther admonished his faithful followers to live a life of repentance. Clearly, this did not include repentance towards the Jewish people or an admonishment towards the Catholics for these vile Judensaus, whose craftsmen first carved them into the fabric of their places of worship, and which ultimately seeded ideas for the Holocaust.

Much Nazi propaganda used Lutheran anti-Semitism to abuse Jews including the reprinting of his sermons and texts, which called for synagogues to be destroyed, their books burned and for them to be thrown out of Germany. Kristallnacht, the dreadful night of November 9, 1938, should be seared in every Christian’s conscience; Jewish homes, schools and businesses were vandalized, synagogues torched, close to 100 Jews were killed and in its wake, some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.

Jewish people who are brought up to know the history of persecution have a painful sense of grief and mourning over what their people suffered at the hands of Christians, and the Judensau sculpture only serves as a painful reminder. As anti-Semitism continues to rise across Europe once again, these images serve as vivid portrayals and as potent reminders of anti-Semitism’s power.

October 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the launching of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, with Pope Francis planning to travel to Sweden to assist in the launch of a year-long commemoration. Instead of celebrating it, many sincere Christians are calling for a time of true repentance towards the Jewish people. They are also appealing to the German authorities for the removal of the defamatory, libelous and anti-Semitic Wittenberg Judensau.

To be fair, many Christians are not even aware of the sculpture’s existence and probably wouldn’t recognize its significance unless it was pointed out to them. However, it is what it is, and it is not only insulting to Jews but it is obscene and blasphemous on a Christian place of worship.

With Luther’s anniversary on the horizon, Christians at Wittenberg 2017 have petitioned the Church authorities to replace the Judensau with something more honoring to the God of Israel and respectful of the Jewish people, whose scriptures after-all form the basis of the Christian faith. Many other Christians around the world have signed an on-line petition for the sculpture’s removal, seeing it as an act of reconciliation and good relations with the Jewish community in Germany and around the world. Time will tell!

JOL Blogger | Jackie Goodall
Jackie Goodall is a freelance writer based in Ireland. She holds a first-class honors degree in English Literature from the Open University.
She writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines and heads up Ireland Israel Alliance, a pro-Israel advocacy group that, among other things, aims to bring clarity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ensure it receives fair and impartial treatment within the Irish media.

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