Heritage and Responsibility
A position paper of the Town Church congregation of Wittenberg regarding the derision of Jews at the South Eastern fassade of the Town Church Wittenberg on occasion of the Reformation Jubilee 2017
1.1. The Town Church Wittenberg is blessed with a rich church and art historical heritage. Names like Martin Luther, Johannes Bugenhagen, Philipp Melanchthon or Lucas Cranach are connected with the "Mother Church of the Reformation".
1.2. Part of the heritage are numerous sand stone reliefs around the exterior. One of them is the sculpture of abuse from the end of the 13th century, which caricatures and mocks Jews and their religion. This caricature became well-known as the "Wittenberger Judensau" and remains a disturbing heritage for every generation.
1.3. The inscription "Schem Ha Mphoras" was added in 1570 and goes back to an anti-Jewish text by Martin Luther. The congregation of the Town Church disassociates itself from anti-Jewish disparagements by Martin Luther and welcomes the promulgation of the Evangelical Church in Germany („Martin Luther and the Jews – Necessary Rememberance on the occasion of the Reformation Jubilee“ from
November 11, 2015) and of the Evangelical Church in Middle Germany ("Martin Luther and the Jews – Heritage and Responsibility from November 19, 2016), that tell about Martin Luther's view of the Jews and of the Judaism, criticize them and declare them as to be untenable.
1.4. The sculpture of abuse is a disconcerting heritage. Again and again, some residents and guests of Wittenberg are disturbed by the sculpture of abuse and of its position, particularly on the fassade of a building of worshipping God. Letters and petitions reach the congregation of the Town Church asking to put aside, to remove or to replace the sculpture of abuse.
2.1. The congregation of the Town Church listens and registers the critical questions and welcomes the continuing dispute about the sculpture of abuse. It would be awkward if the derision of Jews at the South East corner of the Town Church would not start any discussion. The shame and the resistance, that are engendered by the sculpture of abuse, are the "Thorn in the Flesh" (2. Corinthians 12,7), which provokes and ignites the rememberance and the memory.
2.2. As one of the first church congregations in Germany, the congregation of the Town Church consecrated a Memorial Plaque on November 11, 1988, that is connected to the sculpture of abuse. It also highlights the history of the impact of Anti-Judasim and Anti-Semitism in an artistic way. The Memorial Plaque lies firmly in the way of a visitor and directs the view to the sculpture of abuse with the following inscription: „God’s own name, the reviled Schem Ha Mphoras, which the Jews kept almost unspeakably sacred from the Christians, died with six million Jews under the sign of a cross“. (Added in Hebrew letters is the beginning of Psalm 130, „Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.“)
In this way, a memorial piece of history is preserved, and at the same time critical commentary, with awareness of guilt, is offered.
2.3. The congregation of the Town Church acknowledges the memorial and remembering culture with an original piece at an original place. History should not be hidden. Mediation of history succeeds most impressibly at an authentical place. This is, again and again, a painful and paradoxical process, because something negative shall effect something positive: An Anti-Jewish motivated sand stone relief warns against the fears and consequences of a devaluating and excluding attitude in church and society.
2.4. At the memorial place on the South East fassade of the Town Church, a vivid culture of rememberance was established, including local and church memorial events. During guided tours, guests are confronted with the history of Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism. In local, public relations, and in the internet:
as well as with local discussions, the controversy about the sculpture of abuse is accompanied and supported.
2.5. The mocking continues to be a troubling legacy. That's why different reactions and different opinions belong to the process of memory and rememberance.
The congregation of the Town Church asks all to honor and to respect the way of remberance with the original sculpture on the original place and the locally established memorial culture.
The Council of the Congregation of the Town Church in Wittenberg
Lutherstadt Wittenberg, February 28, 2017