Review of Jud Süß

Jud Süß (1940)
Well made film - hateful message
23 July 2011
One of the most notorious anti Semitic movies ever made, filmed in Germany in 1940, under the close supervision of Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. This was based on a real case and a further novel by Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger - obviously, the Nazis completely distorted the source material so that this film is completely anti-Semitic. The movie was a huge success at its time – millions of Germans watched it and SS boss Heinrich Himmler made viewing the movie mandatory for every member of his organization. Today the film is banned in Germany.

In 18th century Germany, the foolish duke of Wurttenberg decides to make the Jewish businessman Joseph Suss Oppenheimmer his financial adviser. Soon disaster will come to the dukedom, in the form of a higher cost of living (under advice from Suss, the duke sharply rises all sort of taxes). Suss also advices the duke to let the Jews enter Wurttenberg (from where they were banned from residing). Eventually, the members of Wurttenberg council, decides to rise against the duke and his adviser.

Ironically, in some ways the message of the movie looks different today than originally intended. To a modern audience, the Germans in the movie are so naïve, ignorant and narrow minded that they seem off putting, while Suss appears to be, until he turns into a rapist and torturer toward the end, not such a bad guy, just a sharp, quick if a bit ethically loose businessman. Putting tolls in the roads of Wurttenberg doesn't look to be such a bad thing, while the politicians of the council opposing Suss seem uptight, arrogant and pompous. The character of Faber seems an unbearable, prejudiced young hothead, while his wife Dorothea, the Christian girl Suss strives for and that will be one of the causes of his downfall (played by Kristina Soderbaum, wife of director Veit Harlan) is so dumb and foolish, one feels she is not really worth the trouble. Even the portrayal of the rabbi of the community seems almost positive to a modern audience: he tells Suss to be very careful in his political dealings with the Germans, lest this backfire on the Jewish community. In this way, the movie takes for granted the anti Jewish prejudices of the German people of the day that we no longer take for granted. Ferdinand Marian gives an amazing multifaceted performance as the cunning but magnetic Suss, without him the movie would be far less powerful than it is. Finally, I give this movie a high rating because I think is very well made – I certainly find its message hateful.
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