« Jud Süss » and the Nazi Propaganda Machine
Éditions Les Belles Lettres
In Le Juif Süss et la Propagande Nazie, Claude Singer chronicles the anti-Semitic construction, and consequences, of a major Nazi propaganda film. Called Jud Süss and directed by Veit Harlan (Stanley Kubrick’s brother-in-law) under Joseph Goebbels’s supervision, this film gave an anti-Semitic twist to the life of Joseph Süss Oppenheimer (about 1693 to 1738). Süss was the lifelong financial adviser to a German Duke, purported to be responsible for levying exorbitant taxes while living an opulent lifestyle and enjoying the favoritism of the Duke. After the Duke died, Süss had a sham trial and public execution.
Harlan wasn’t the first to exploit Süss Oppenheimer’s story, as Singer discusses; the first major book about him, published in 1827, was also anti-Semitic. But a second major book, publihed in 1925 by Leon Feuchtwanger, depicted Süss as the victim of split loyalties to his Jewish and German heritages. It was Feuchtwanger’s version that Harlan supposedly used as the basis for his 1940 movie, although Harlan later told the Nuremberg court that he meant to vilify Süss Oppenheimer's enemies, he knowingly altered facts and forced Jews to act out negative stereotypes. Singer concludes that the tragedy of Jud Süss is not only the racial violence it inspired (and in neo-Nazi circles, still does), but also that positive interpretations of Süss Oppenheimer’s life (like Feuchtwanger’s) have been completely overshadowed by the famous anti-Semitic Harlan version. It is a testament to, and a warning of, the power of filmmaking.
Claude Singer : Claude Singer has also published Vichy, L’Université et les Juifs (1992), which won the LICRA prize, and L’Université Libérée, L’Université épurée 1943-1947 (1997). In addition to teaching in the Jewish Studies department of the Sorbonne, he is also in charge of the educational arm of the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine, Mémorial de la Shoah.