The sandstone carving, which has been part of the exterior of Wittenberg Stadtkirche — or city church — since around 1290, depicts two people identified as Jews by their pointed hats suckling a pig — regarded as unclean in the Jewish religion. Another man, a caricature of a rabbi, raises the pig’s tail and looks into her backside.
The case was brought by Michael Dietrich Düllmann, 79-year-old retired psychiatric nurse, who converted to Judaism in the 1970s. Düllmann has long campaigned for the removal of the “Judensau” or “Jew Sow,” which he believes is not only offensive but “dangerous” at a time when politicians are warning of rising anti-Semitism in Germany.
Wittenberg is the birthplace of the Protestant Reformation and where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a Catholic church in 1517. In 1570, the inscription “Rabini Shem HaMphoras” — a nonsensical phrase that the court said was based on an anti-Semitic text by Luther — was placed above the sow carving.
Düllmann has been waging a legal battle for years to remove the carving, situated about 13 feet from the ground.
But on Tuesday the Federal Court of Justice upheld rulings from lower courts that dismissed the case, saying there was no breach of the law.
It acknowledged that the nature of the sculpture was offensive up until November 1988, when a bronze plaque was installed as part of the 50th anniversary commemoration of Kristallnacht, when Nazis set light to and destroyed Jewish property across Germany.
Luther’s writing and other examples of anti-Jewish sentiment in Germany through the ages are mentioned on the plaque, in addition to a reference to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Düllmann told CNN his latest courtroom defeat was “scandalous,” saying he now plans to appeal to the German constitutional court.
Speaking by telephone from Bonn, Düllmann said the court’s decision was an “underestimation of the real danger” of the sculpture.
“You can’t neutralize it just by putting a simple plaque alongside it of what it means,” he told CNN, adding that such “propaganda” can be found in more than 30 churches across Germany today.
“The Judensau isn’t only an insult, it’s so much more — it’s a call to murder the Jews,” he said.
“No institution besides the church, and no single person besides Martin Luther, did more to prepare the German people for Auschwitz. Auschwitz came not from a vacuum. It was the result of centuries-long agitation against the Jews.”
He said the growing level of anti-Semitism is a “real danger” in Germany today and that far-right demonstrators have appeared at every court hearing he has had so far.
“I’m very concerned about the situation here and I think the intellectuals and those in politics are underestimating the dangers. They are willing to make concessions to the right wing.”
Determined to fight on, he added: “It’s my will go to to the Constitutional Court and to continue to fight this and if I lose I will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”
Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on his organization’s website that the ruling was “understandable,” but added that “neither the base plate nor the explanatory slanted display contain an unambiguous condemnation of the anti-Jewish work of art.”
He said: “Both the Wittenberg church community and the churches as a whole must find a clear and appropriate solution for dealing with sculptures that are hostile to Jews. Defamation of Jews by churches must once and for all be a thing of the past.”