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Film / Jew Süss (1940)

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Jud Süß (Jew Süss) is a 1940 German Period Piece produced by Terra Film at the behest of Nazi Germany's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, directed by Veit Harlan and loosely based on the 1925 novel of the same name by Lion Feuchtwanger. It is one of the most (in-)famous antisemitic propaganda films ever made, and starred Ferdinand Marian, Kristina Söderbaum (Veit Harlan's wife), Werner Krauss and Heinrich George.

In the 18th century, Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg begins his reign promising to rule with loyalty and honesty, but his cunning Jewish treasurer Josef Süss Oppenheimer corrupts him and enriches himself on the back of the citizens, causing them to complain and pushing Württemberg to the brink of civil war.

Accounts of the film's production are Shrouded in Myth, due to its notoriety and the later attempts of its cast and crew to distance themselves from it. Both Veit Harlan and Ferdinand Marian claimed that they were forced into making the film against their will, and that Goebbels micromanaged the production to the extent of ordering script rewrites and countermanding efforts by both director and actor to mitigate the film's antisemitism. In particular, Harlan recalled that he gave Oppenheimer a Motive Rant prior to his execution, but this was deemed unacceptable by Goebbels for humanizing its Jewish villain and excised from the finished film.


Whether Harlan, in particular, is reliable in his recollections about the film is debatable; after World War II he was tried for crimes against humanity and, though acquitted, he and Kristina Söderbaum were banned from working in film for over a decade. Marian's resentment is better documented; he was haunted by Jud Süß and ultimately Driven to Suicide by his participation several years later. Regardless, the film was a passion project for Goebbels, and Harlan would have been hard-pressed to disobey him even if he'd been so inclined.

The movie's direct impact on The Holocaust is undeniable. Upon its initial release during World War II, it caused antisemitic riots in Vienna and attacks on Jews in other cities across Europe. Conversely, theaters showing it in occupied Paris were bombed by the French Resistance. It was also shown to SS trainees during the war, and even screened for guards at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Unsurprisingly, Jud Süß was banned in postwar Germany, Austria and several other countries and can only be screened there for educational purposes.


Should NOT be confused with the 1934 British film of the same name. Both are based on the same novel, but the 1934 film adapts the novel faithfully and actually condemns antisemitism.

Jew Süss provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Deviation: The novel's writer, Lion Feuchtwanger (who was Jewish himself), intended his portrayal of Süss as a study of the tragedy caused by the human weaknesses of greed, pride and ambition. This film turned that Tragic Hero story into a purely antisemitic slur, by considering said human traits as defining and instinctive for Jews.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original novel, Oppenheimer was a Tragic Hero, but here he is portrayed as a villain for propaganda purposes.
  • Angry Mob: At the end of the film, the enraged citizens of Württemberg form a mob on par with any Universal Horror film.
  • Artistic License – Religion: Very few things this film portrays about Judaism bears any resemblance to the actual religion. Most notably, Rabbis do not practice astrology or mysticism.
  • The Corrupter: Suss manipulates the Duke into giving him more wealth and power.
  • The Coup: When the council objects to the Duke's increasing usurpation of power and abrogation of the constitution, Süß suggests to him that he should dismiss the council so that the country can be ruled by an absolute monarch.
  • Dark Is Evil: Süss is portrayed as evil, and dresses in black before he shaves his beard, cuts his payots and dons gentile noble clothes.
  • Darker and Edgier: Even without the Nazi propaganda aspect, this film is much darker and more violent than the original novel or the British 1934 film version.
  • Defiled Forever: How the film perceives Dorothea after being raped by Oppenheimer.
  • Driven to Suicide: Dorothea drowns herself in a lake after being brutally raped by Oppenheimer in exchange for saving her lover. The actress Kristina Söderbaum, became known for playing rape victims who commit suicide by drowning in many films directed by her husband. The public eventually gave her the moniker Reichswasserleiche; "Reich" is "realm/country/nation" and "Wasserleiche" literally translates as "water corpse", meaning a corpse found in the water and almost always a drowning victim. So, an equivalent moniker in English would be "[our] national drownee.”
  • Dull Surprise: Dorothea pouts when Oppenheimer throws her on the bed and then looks mildly annoyed as he proceeds to rape her.
  • Evil Chancellor: Suss becomes one to the Duke.
  • Gratuitous Rape: The scene where Oppenheimer rapes Dorothea is surprisingly violent and graphic for a glossy mainstream studio film made in 1940.
  • Greedy Jew: In spades, and played straight. In short, the film portrays Jewish people, and Süss in particular, as being materialistic, corrupting, immoral, cunning and overall untrustworthy.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Josef Süss Oppenheimer, by way of all the negative stereotypes associated with Greedy Jew.
  • In Name Only: The film only uses the basic premise of the novel; the actual plot plays out more like a 18th century and more anti-Semitic German version of The Merchant of Venice.
  • Older and Wiser: Rabbi Loew, who advises Süss not to seek direct positions of power over the gentiles, telling him that if he really wants power over them, he should stick to controlling money.
  • Period Piece: The film is set in the 18th century and boasts costumes and settings accordingly. This was actually one of the film's main selling points to the German public as opposed to the comparatively unsuccessful Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) — people would easily go to the theaters to watch an engaging period drama, but less so for a crass and unsettling (pseudo-)documentary, which the latter is.
  • Propaganda Machine: The film itself is one of the most well known examples of state-funded antisemitic propaganda.
  • Rape as Drama: An especially devious and diabolical example.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: How the townsfolk justify Oppenheimer’s lynching.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The townsfolk finally snap once Dorothea's body is found in the lake and lash out at Oppenheimer and the rest of the Jews who settled in the city.
  • Suicide by Sea: Dorothea’s chosen suicide method, only in a lake.