Some court cases succeed even when they fail. Such is the case with the attempt by a Jewish fellow citizen to have an anti-Semitic insulting relief removed from the facade of the Wittenberg town church. “Judensau” is the name given to a motif that is common in the Middle Ages but little known to today’s public and shows Jews riding pigs or sucking their teats. In Judaism, pigs are considered unclean animals. It is therefore an equally shameful and despicable testimony of Christian anti-Semitism, which found an outstanding protagonist in the late Martin Luther, who preached in the Wittenberg church.
The Federal Court of Justice has now decided that the image may remain in place. It has become a memorial, it has lost the original character of an insult; the “infringing content of the message” was eliminated by additional panels and references to the unfortunate origin of the relief.
A dismissal, but not a lost case. Because the judges make it clear that each individual case must be viewed in its very specific context. If the distancing is not enough, the anti-Jewish hate image remains what it always was: just this. The lawsuit also draws attention to the fact that nowhere else in Europe are there as many of them as in Germany.
The verdict should therefore be an opportunity for the local Christian communities to take a self-critical look at the insults on and in their places of worship. Of course, the colored window by the artist Gerhard Richter is a highlight that makes a visit to Cologne Cathedral worthwhile; the fact that a “Judensau” is carved in the choir stalls is treated there as a footnote. Just why?
You miss the opportunity to deal with your own history in an appropriate way. Appropriate means showing and acknowledging that the hatred of Jews propagated in Christianity for centuries helped make the Holocaust possible; that anti-Semitism is part of a stray church tradition and today everything is being done to break away from it. After all, bronze plaques with inscriptions referring to this responsibility were laid at the Wittenberg town church in the 1980s.
In some places, church representatives seem to have yet to gain such an insight. Or they think they have already done everything necessary at some point and somewhere. But even if there are signs and instructions: are they up to date? Do they correspond to the state of research and the preconceptions of the population? Here the churches have a task that they should take more seriously than before thanks to the lawsuit before the Federal Court of Justice.