Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany
Reichstag building in Berlin, GermanyFlash 90

Recently in these columns there appeared the disturbing story of a Protestant Church in Calbe, Germany, whose Pastor, Jürgen Kohtz, was forced by law to reinstall a relief of the Judensau after it had been dismantled for restoration work.

The Judensau – the Jews’ Sow – is one of the more scurrilous images to have come out of the Church. Originating in Germany in the 13th century, when the only Christianity in Europe was Catholicism, it typically depicts Jews as piglets, suckling from their “mother” the sow, sometimes eating her excrement. In its even more obscene form, it depicts Jews engaging in sexual intercourse with the sow.

Martin Luther, who broke away from Catholicism in 1517 to found the Protestant Church, was a particularly eager exponent of the Judensau.

The Judensau found its way into popular German anti-Jewish sentiment, and of course the Nazis made full use of it. Following the First World War, when the German-Jewish industrialist and physicist Walther Rathenau was appointed Foreign Minister, the anti-Semitic masses – those who would later form the core of the Nazi Party – popularised the chant:

“Erschlag den Walther Rathenau / die gottverdammte Judensau”

(“Kill that Walther Rathenau / the God-damned Jewish sow”).

This was later expanded into the lyrics of a song:

“Auch der Rathenau, der Walther

Erreicht kein hohes Alter;

Knallt ab den Walther Rathenau,

Die gottverfluchte Judensau”

(“Also this Rathenau, this Walther,

Do not let reach old age;

Knock off Walther Rathenau

This God-accursed Jewish sow”).

It mattered not to them that Rathenau was deeply patriotic to Germany, his Fatherland; that he was unstintingly loyal to Germany; that he began the secret program to re-arm Germany, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles, directly challenging the Allied powers who had defeated Germany in the recent World War; or that Rathenau defined himself as “a German of Jewish origin”.

For the anti-Semites he was a Jew – and therefore marked for destruction.

These were not empty words.

Exactly 98 years ago, on Saturday morning, 24th June 1922, in his car being driven from his house to the Foreign Office in Berlin, he was assassinated.

Three terrorists, Ernst Werner Techow, Erwin Kern, and Hermann Fischer, members of the Organisation Consul (which later morphed into the Viking League), an ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic terror organisation, overtook his car, sprayed him with submachine-gun bullets, and tossed a hand-grenade into his open-top car.

Fischer and Kern were apprehended by the police on 17th July; Kern was shot and killed by a police detective, and Fischer committed suicide rather than face arrest and trial. Techow was arrested, charged with being an accessory to murder, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

(In the event, he was released from prison in January 1930, enlisted in the the German Navy in 1941, and was killed by a Soviet soldier towards the end of the war.)

Such was the grisly history of the Judensau.

But reliefs of the Judensau still abound in Germany, and as historical features, German law forbids their removal.

This rings particularly hypocritical in these days, when historical statues the world over are being toppled and destroyed because the people they depict were not sufficiently “woke” to deserve memorialization.

Forbidden to destroy the Judensau which decorates his church but understanding how offensive the image is, Pastor Kohtz found an inventive solution: just several days ago he ordered it covered over.

But even his sensitivity betrays a certain…well, shall we say ambiguity?

In his words, quoted in a local newspaper “This still offends people of the Jewish faith today”.

The choice of words, certainly well-meant, is nevertheless intriguing and revealing: “die Menschen jüdischen Glaubens”, “the people of the Jewish faith”.

This sounds somewhat cumbersome – but he couldn’t use the simpler word “Juden” (“Jews”), because “Juden” is no longer politically correct in modern German. It is politer to use the appellation “a Jewish person” rather than “Jew”: one of the legacies of Nazism is that until today, the word “Jude” sounds like an insult.

Hence the Pastor’s circumlocution, “people of the Jewish faith”.

Now this is a truly intriguing notion. What about people born Jewish, who identify as Jewish ethnically and socially, but do not believe in Judaism and are not therefore “of the Jewish faith”? How can a modern German refer to those Jews?

One of the standard German euphemisms for “Jew” is “jüdische Mitbürger” (“Jewish fellow-citizens”). But this formulation is also somewhat awkward: first of all, the implication is that there are genuine Germans, and then, tagged onto them, Jewish fellow-citizens. Not really Germans, but nevertheless fully accepted into German society. (Or are they?...)

Second, it raises the problem of how to describe a foreign Jew, one who is clearly not a “fellow-citizen”.

In 1997, the British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who is Jewish, paid a State visit to Germany. A leading German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, referred to him as “der Jude Rifkind” (“the Jew, Rifkind”). This caused a storm of protest, sounding hostile, almost Nazi in its undertones.

But in all fairness, how else could he be described? Rifkind, a British Jew, was certainly not a fellow-citizen to Germans.

So how about another standard German euphemism, “jüdischer Herkunft” (“of Jewish origin”)?

– Well, I personally would be deeply offended by anyone who described me as being “of Jewish origin”.

The Church of England Bishop Hugh Montefiore was “of Jewish origin”, born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother – but he clearly was not a Jew. Karl Marx was “of Jewish origin”. The phrase “of Jewish origin” connotes “non-Jewish”.

And contrariwise, my dear friend Nachshon z”l was most emphatically not “of Jewish origin”. A devout Jew who made Aliyah from Ohio, he was born Lutheran and converted to Judaism. He was of American origin, or of Lutheran origin – and a proud Jew!

Onkelos, Nissim Baruch Black, and Yael Kushner (Ivanka Trump) are obviously not “of Jewish origin”, but they are Jews.

So how could a polite German describe such a person, without using the word “Jude”?

The very question demonstrates how uncomfortable Germans today feel with the very word “Jude”. It feels like an insult. It’s a term to be avoided.

Hence the good Pastor’s cumbersome expression of genuine concern for the feelings of “people of the Jewish faith”.

But don’t be too smug, dear reader. This is not a peculiarly German issue. In Britain and the USA, the word “Jew” is taking on ever-increasingly negative connotations. Jews in the Anglo world are ever-less comfortable with self-defining as “a Jew”, and ever-more likely to self-identify as “a Jewish person”.

For sure, the Judensau is primarily a German phenomenon; it has not crossed the language-barrier into the Anglosphere. But the usage of “Jew” as a pejorative epithet has long since infected the entire English-speaking world.

It’s well worth considering the full implications that this has for the Jews of the USA and Britain – or maybe it would be more soothing to say, for Jewish citizens of the USA and Britain.

Dear Jew, living comfortably in America – how comfortable are you really when you hear yourself described as “a Jew”?