Jew Süß [Jud Süß], Film Still (1940)
In 1939, Joseph Goebbels commissioned the anti-Semitic feature film Jud Süß [Jew Süß] and personally supervised its production. Although the film was based on Lion Feuchtwanger’s 1925 novel of the same name, the screenplay distorted the plot of the novel, turning it into a piece of racist propaganda. The plot is based on the true story of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer (1692-1738), the Duke of Wurttemberg’s Jewish financial adviser. Oppenheimer made a career at court, but after his patron’s death he was defamed and eventually executed. In the film version, Oppenheimer embodies several Jewish stereotypes such as greed, deceitfulness, and cowardice; he tries to seduce “Aryan” women and is presented as part of the “Jewish world conspiracy.” The film was directed by Veit Harlan (1899-1964), who had previously directed several propaganda films praising the National Socialist regime. The leading roles were played by well-known German actors such as Heinrich George, Ferdinand Marian, and Kristina Söderbaum, Harlan’s wife. The film still below shows a diabolic looking Ferdinand Marian as the film’s title character. Jud Süß premiered in September 1940 at the Venice Film Festival, where it was received enthusiastically; it opened in German theaters on September 24. The film, which combined the National Socialists’ anti-Semitic propaganda with entertainment, was an instant box office hit. It was declared mandatory viewing for all members of the SS and the police as well as for the non-Jewish population in the occupied territories in the East in order to emphasize the necessity of continuing the deportation of Jews.
After the war, Veit Harlan had to make repeated court appearances on account of his propaganda films. In the end, however, he was acquitted of all charges and was able to continue working as a director.