Loving “Jud Süss,” the “most hateful” movie ever made
Chapter One: A Film Fan’s Dark Night
Riiing: a phone in my dream. I kept trying to change the channel. Finally took the door marked EXIT and woke up. Looked at my newly purchased Sangean radio alarm clock. I still haven’t mastered the sixty-nine-page instruction manual. Tried to remember which button to press. It was three a.m., either in Paterson, New Jersey, or Vienna, Austria-Hungary. I stumbled downstairs, cursing the while.
“This better be good.”
“Danusha. It’s Dee.”
“This still had better be good.”
“I’ve just seen a movie.”
Some permit friends to phone at three a.m. only for fatal heart attacks. Why? What can I do for a decomposing corpse at that hour that I couldn’t do after a healthy slumber, a warm shower, and a hearty breakfast — the most important meal of the day? Dee phoning at three to talk about a movie? I got comfortable on the couch. I did not turn on the lamp. I’d allow the waning crescent of harvest moon to illuminate my 25-foot ceiling and its exposed beams; this ghostly flame appropriate to the assumed pace and intensity of Dee’s forthcoming cinematic confession.
I am the movies’ love slave. I don’t want to be a star. I don’t want to sell a script. I had this conversation with myself when I was eight. I wanted to enter the world of which movies made me dream. Often, after climbing a Himalayan peak or wearing a satin-lined cape, I’d draw a line through the corresponding item on the checklist that movies inspired me to compile.
I was once involved with a bad man: a compulsive liar, gun-nut, and Texan. My friends wondered. For me it was all comprehensible with one e-mail. Shortly after Buster had done the most recent horrible thing — was it when he tried to auction off my left kidney on E-Bay? — I watched the 1952 Hollywood soap opera “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Lana Turner is standing at the foot of a staircase. She’s wearing a feather boa and a sparkly dress. Her hair is sleek. Her skin is velvet. Behind her explodes a bouquet the size of an asteroid. You feel the ceramic vase, its earthy, bourgeois chill. All those textures, the fluff, the petals, even the temperature are italicized by Robert Surtees’ Academy-Award-winning, black-and-white cinematography. I could barely breathe. I wanted to cry. I emailed Buster.
He emailed back, immediately, pages of ruminations on “The Bad and the Beautiful.” It was as if he had published five previous essays on the film and was cutting and pasting their gist. He hadn’t. It was just all there, in his mind, along with betrayal and quitting jobs and moving from woman to woman.
I post about films on internet bulletin boards. It’s my version of anonymous sex. You never know who will respond. It could be a jerk. Or you could hit upon the one person in the known universe who gets what you saw in that one scene.
“Talk. I’m here,” I said to Dee.
“I loved it, Danusha. I got the DVD through interlibrary loan. It’s rare and I thought I’d be waiting years. I thought my name would be put on some watch list. I thought uniformed men would arrive at my door with clipboards.”
“Must be some flick.”
“It is,” Dee said. “I thought since it’s a classic, albeit a controversial one, that it would be a chore to watch.”
Dee was trying to cool herself down by using the SAT word “albeit.”
“At first,” she breathed. “Albeit” had not done the trick. Dee was percolating like a pot of film-noir coffee. “I didn’t even sit in my comfy chair.”
Dee has a chair designated for watching films.
“I was ready to take notes. You know, that complete lack of willing suspension of disbelief. That attitude you assume when you’re assigned to watch an acknowledged masterpiece like ‘Citizen Kane.'”
Hitchcock said that the audience’s knowing that there is a bomb under the table doesn’t make the scene any less thrilling; if anything, the audience’s foreknowledge makes the scene that much more suspenseful. Dee was about to tell me that this obscure classic she’d gotten through interlibrary loan had swept her off her feet. I love Hollywood endings like that.
“I … I fell in love with this movie. I’m in love with the lead actor. He’s dead. This is a very squirm-inducing place to be.”
Clouds broke. Milky moonlight flooded the beams. My apartment’s scaffolding made me think of ribs, of Dee’s ribs, exposed by her passion. Loving a movie can bring you closer to some hidden part of yourself. It can be more of a religious experience than regularly-scheduled services at a tax-exempt house of worship.
“Tell me, Dee,” I murmured.
“You’ll hate me,” she said.
“No way,” I said.
“Just remember. You told me to tell you.”
“I told you to tell me.”
“I fell in love,” Dee declared, “with the lead character in a Nazi propaganda film commissioned and overseen by Joseph Goebbels himself. It’s been called ‘evil,’ ‘sinister,’ ‘macabre,’ ‘hideous,’ ‘malicious,’ ‘monstrous,’ ‘the most vicious ideological propaganda film produced during the entire Third Reich.’ It’s widely banned. The Nazis screened it after they arrived in a new city, and before they began rounding up Jews.”
My hand reached up and switched on the electric light. I put down the receiver. I put my arm over my stomach, and my hand over my mouth.
I watch Nazi propaganda films as part of my research. Watching them is a direct confrontation with Satan. I feel sick, and I want to drive my fist through the screen. I watch them only during daylight hours, in a university library. It’s really important for me to have pen and paper in hand. They give me the sense that I will master the evil through writing.
My mother was an Eastern European peasant. She ground into me that the Nazis were just one of many THEYs.
“…in 1938 at Munich they handed us to Hitler…”
“…they erased the entire village of Lidice…”
“…in 1945 at Yalta they handed us to Stalin…”
“…in 1956 they broadcast over the radio, telling the people to fight. Then they sat back and watched the slaughter…”
“…in 1968 they sent tanks into Prague…”
They have money and power. We are dirt in their path. All our victories are provisional. Eventually, they win. When I watch Nazi propaganda films, I fear that their victory will occur just because of my surrender of my eyes. Their expert images will finally defeat me. I will come to think as they.
“Have I lost you?” I could hear Dee ask.
I picked up the receiver. “Let’s shelve this conversation.”
“You have to understand.”
“I never will.”
“Let me just talk about the movie.”
I reached up and put out the electric light. I’ve always said that women should be allowed to be priests. Were we, we’d hear confessions. I knew what I’d do: model my prose after community college women’s studies textbooks: affirming, non-judgmental, and utterly void of any politically incorrect truth.
If Dee told me that she had developed a crush on a Nazi character, I’d recite, “Sexual fantasies are a normal way of working out issues we face. Maximilian Schell, Sebastian Koch, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz: real Nazis were never so fetching as these handsome stars. Six-pack-abs-Solution? Say three Hail Marys and buy yourself a pair of designer, black leather boots.”
If she told me that the film presented Nazism in a way that began to make sense? “Interethnic tensions are normal in our multicultural world. We all think extreme thoughts when cut off in traffic by a member of an ethnic minority. In calmer moments, we realize that genocide causes more problems than it solves.”
If I were lucky, this would be about aesthetics. “Beauty is a whore,” I’d report. “She dances for whomever buys her dinner. The poet John Keats wrote ‘Beauty is truth; truth, beauty.’ The Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl made a couple of the most beautiful films ever, and they could not be more false. Learn what every nice guy who gets stiffed by a cheerleader learns: decouple beauty and truth.”
As if to a firing squad, “Shoot,” I ordered.
“There’s one more thing I have to tell you,” Dee said.
“Good grief,” I said.
“While I was watching this movie … I got the munchies … and … I —”
“You didn’t,” I gasped.
“I did,” Dee confessed. “I ate popcorn while watching a Nazi propaganda film.”
“Knew a guy once,” I said, “Arno Lowi. He was the child of a Holocaust survivor. Arno went to Auschwitz in 1987. They show a grisly film there of the camp’s liberation. Arno ate popcorn. It was a conscious act of defiance.”
Chapter Two: “Jud Süss”
“Movies are like relationships,” Dee pronounced. “You always know in the first few seconds. In the first few seconds I knew. I’d love this movie.”
“Yikes,” I said.
“I could immediately see that ‘Jud Süss’ is one of my favorite genres: black-and-white costume melodrama slash swashbuckler from filmmaking’s Golden Age — 1940. It’s comparable to adaptations of novels by Sabatini or Dickens produced by Warner Brothers or M-G-M. As is typical in films of this genre, there would be palace intrigue and revolting peasants, dramatic reversals of fortune; the lowly would rise high; the mighty would plummet. There would be a virtuous maiden in distress, a mustache-twirling villain, and secret passwords. The film would reward the attentive eye with period detail, as does a Vermeer painting; there would be vintage hutches and spinets and pewter. A smattering of facts would inspire me to crack the history books. I even got an idea for a new recipe: roast goose with apples and mugwort.”
“You really don’t get enough mugwort recipes in non-Nazi films.”
“Mugwort is toxic. Causes hallucinations.”
“Apparently only when consumed in large quantities. Goose with mugwort is a traditional German recipe. Anything native and German is superior to any food imported from any other country, in the Nazi worldview.
“That’s one big difference between ‘Jud Süss’ and comparable Hollywood films, with their kindly friars in the Chateau D’If or Sherwood forest, and hunchbacks in cathedrals. Here, Christianity has nearly vanished. In its place you have the state. When a toast is drunk, it’s to the leader and the state. When a man cites his highest authority, it is the state. When a judicial murder is justified, it is with fascist sacraments: blood and soil. Otherwise, though, in many ways this film is typical of its genre.”
“It was the familiar genre cues that hypnotized you,” I ventured. “The film’s period detail, its swashbuckling action, that lulled you into a false sense that you were watching wholesome entertainment. A candy coating hiding a poisoned center.”
“It’s not that simple,” Dee said.
“Damn,” I said.
Dee provided more background. “Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, aka Jud Süss, or ‘Jew Süss,’ was a real historical figure. He lived in the eighteenth century, in Stuttgart, capital of the Duchy of Wurttemberg. He advised Duke Karl Alexander. After the duke died, Süss was tortured, hung, and his corpse was kept on public display for six years.”
“Among the accusations against him: trying to reestablish Catholicism in a Protestant state.”
“Those Jews. Always trying to reestablish Catholicism.”
“They invited him to convert. In spite of torture, he refused. His last words were the Shema.”
“I like that,” I said. You can never tell what’s what in accounts of maligned figures from centuries past. Was Lucrezia Borgia really a whore? Did Marie Antoinette really say, ‘Let them eat cake?’ The winners write history. Details the winners recorded to condemn Süss: that, even under torture, he would not convert; that his final words were the Shema, the central Jewish prayer. We can now see that these details speak well of him. And that they kept his corpse up for six years tells us that his killers were spiteful, obsessional ghouls.”
“Here’s a summary of the movie’s plot. Duke Karl Alexander (Heinrich George) wants to purchase a commemorative gift of his coronation for his wife. Joseph Süss Oppenheimer produces an irresistible bauble. His one request is that he be allowed to deliver it to the duke at his palace. Stuttgart is Judenrein; Jews are not allowed. To gain entry, Süss must shave his beard and forelocks, abandon his kaftan, and adopt gentile dress. Süss’ carriage overturns on Wurttemberg’s bad roads. Dorothea (Kristina Söderbaum) rescues him, and rides with him into the city. He is immediately smitten with her.”
“Lemme guess. She’s a pretty, dumb blonde.”
“Some things never change, including the blaming of women. It’s the duchess’ greed and Dorothea’s naiveté that introduce Süss into the Aryan city. Once in the palace, Süss uses his wiles to bond with the duke. He gains greater and greater power, and arouses more and more resentment. The duke dies, and Süss is overcome by political enemies, primarily Dorothea’s fiancé Faber (Malte Jäger), and Dorothea’s father, Councilman Sturm (Eugen Klöpfer). They hang him. The End.
“Three minutes into ‘Jud Süss’, the peasants are thronging to welcome their new duke. A young woman is accidentally stripped to the waist by overzealous palace guards. Her breasts flash. Duke Karl Alexander shrieks like a hyena. That crude scene was a reminder that this was a cheap propaganda film, playing any card it could to hawk its vile wares. I became more alert.
“My radar really went off in the next scene, introducing Dorothea and Faber. I practically ejected from the movie-watching chair. Nazi aesthetics eliminated the eccentricities that make a human human; their heroes are picture-perfect, lifeless, cutouts. Nazi ideology was absolute in its male supremacism. Women owed their Aryan wombs to the state. Dorothea, the heroine, must be blonde and she must be obviously unintelligent. Nazi passion was fanatical and reserved for the fatherland. Faber and Dorothea mime an ersatz simulacrum of romance.”
“Did their scenes take you out of the movie?” I asked.
“No,” Dee replied. “Weirdly, their scenes just sucked me in even more. I came to see ‘Jud Süss’ as a horror movie, its Stuttgart a proto-Nazi dystopia, its inhabitants blighted by a self-administered curse: worship of their own Aryan blood and soil. Like Lon Chaney in ‘The Werewolf,’ they need to be saved from a Mitteleuropean hex. Their potential savior? An outsider, their opposite, someone complex, flawed, and human. Seven and a half minutes into the film, he appears, and, love him or revile him, he owns the movie.
“Von Remchingen (Theodor Loos) travels to the ghetto to purchase jewels for the duke from Joseph Süss Oppenheimer. Süss looks like a traveling theatrical troupe’s version of a Hasidic Jew — his identity is obviously out of a costume trunk, not genetics. Süss’ pasted-on, black forelocks are the photographic negative of Dorothea’s blonde sausage curls. You can see from his theatrically arched eyebrows and half smile: he’s hiding more than he’s showing. After shaking hands with this character, you count your fingers.
“In that very first shot, you see Süss’ slyness — what Nazis wanted you to see — but you also see that he is the only character in the movie capable of laughter. If Faber came close to laughing, his tundra-white features would splinter into thousands of shards. Dorothea might moo contentedly if you scratched behind her ears. The duke howls like a hyena.
“Süss reminds you of the Sabatini line, ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’ Beauty may fall short of the transcendent, but genuine laughter can’t. From the twinkle and play in Süss’ eyes, you know that he is the only one capable of seeing that conventional reality is a straight jacket we stitch to achieve temporary ends, that with something as small as a joke or as big as a tax to collect money to fix the highways, changing the world need not be scary. He’s capable of irony.”
“That’s the one you fell in love with?”
“Jud Süss. He had me at hello.”
“It’s not as bad as I’d feared. You didn’t fall in love with a Nazi.”
“Didn’t I? Süss is not a real person. He’s a Nazi’s caricature of a Jew. I fell in love with that. Either that or Ferdinand Marian, a doomed actor.”
“The story is that Goebbels forced Marian to take the role by threatening a family member with being sent to a concentration camp, that Marian was so upset that he got drunk and destroyed his apartment with an ax, and that he killed himself. Others also tried ruses to escape. Söderbaum argued that she was breast feeding a newborn. Goebbels hired a wet nurse.”
“You say, ‘the story is…’ Is the story true?”
“Who knows? An actor who worked under a defeated regime dies in a car crash in a Germany occupied by Allied forces. Was it an accident? Did he kill himself because he felt ashamed, or because he knew the team he had played on lost? Marian’s performance made me care. I had to pause the DVD and go into the bathroom and demand: why am I loving this so much?”
We grew up poor and crowded and the bathroom was the one safe place you could be alone and think your own thoughts, at least for the unit of time devoted to one standard bodily function.
“What did the gleaming tile and faint whiff of Lysol tell you?”
“That I see Süss as a heterosexual man forced to act out the part of a woman. Not just any woman, but the savior of us all, Scarlett O’Hara.
“In his first scene, Süss’ kaftan is cinched tightly around his waist; it flares at his hips. Süss appears to be wearing more of a woman’s blouse than a man’s shirt. There is a tasteful broach at his throat, the kind Joan Crawford would wear in her career-woman phase. Süss is also wearing a pinkie ring with a large stone. His eyebrows arch, like Vivien Leigh’s when she played Scarlett, and other conniving vixens. Süss opens his treasure chest, abundant with tiaras and earrings. He is ever so delicate with his fingers, hands, wrists. This is consistent with stereotypes that Jewish men gesticulate excessively. It is also consistent with stereotypes of Jews as less manly: Marian, as Süss, is literally limp-wristed. But these ‘limp’ hands flutter with seductive power.
Süss fondles his jewels with a tenderness calculated to arouse hunger. He lays his pearls in von Remchingen’s outstretched palm, turns his back to him, and, posture defiantly distant and erect, Süss pulls and releases at the strand. Von Remchingen audibly pants. His eyes pop out of his head. He grasps desperately at the pearls. Süss pulls the pearls away … and then releases, while standing aloof and erect. When Süss has Von Remchingen where he wants him, ready to cut a deal for the pearls at exactly the high price Süss demands, Süss presses his own body into Von Remchingen’s, and drapes the pearls around Von Remchingen’s shoulder, as if they were the strands of a web into which Süss has woven his slobbering victim, made captive by his own desire. Süss’ reduction of his opponent to a drooling child, his display of both immediate availability and ultimate scorn, his combination of power and vulnerability, echo the professional tease of an expert stripper. This charged scene is more erotic than any featuring Dorothea and Faber.
“After Von Remchingen leaves, Süss confides in his sidekick, Levy (Werner Krauss). Süss, like Scarlett, in her absolute dedication to preserving Tara, has a noble goal that transcends, and forgives, all personal ambition. Süss is going to lift Jews out of the squalid ghetto they are forced to inhabit and gain them entry to Stuttgart. ‘You’ll go in silk and velvet,’ he promises, sounding very Scarlett-like indeed.
“Julie Andrews said that when she took on the role of a man in ‘Victor Victoria’ she had to resist the urge to gesture with her hands, to resist even slight ‘feminine’ choreography like tilting the head or jutting out or tucking in the chin to indicate interest or sympathy. Marian, as Süss, does the opposite. He is sinuous; he never stops moving; his movements are sensuous; his entire performance is a slow motion belly dance, or the hypnotic writhing of a snake. The range of movements Marian performs is astonishing: arching his back, thrusting out his buttocks, batting his lashes, pursing his lips, always, somehow, managing briefly, or lingeringly, to touch his resistant Aryan interlocutor. Exploiting tools usually assigned to women: beauty, jewels, dance, sex, Süss works to seduce every German he meets. From the looks of it, these Germans badly need to be seduced and would be the better for it if they’d had the sense just to sit back and enjoy.
“About twenty minutes into the movie, Marian does something so unexpected, I concluded that he should receive a posthumous Academy Award. Süss is working to drag primitive, lard-ass Germans to do what is ultimately for their own good: institute a tax that will improve Württemberg’s lousy roads. Yes, Süss, the tax administrator, will profit, but he will also improve the roads; a rising tide lifts all boats. Süss fiercely works the charm. The duke looks away for a moment, and, in that one moment that Süss is released from the chain of contact with a German, he stops moving. He looks spent, dispirited, as if he is struggling with his own disgust at the duke’s density. The duke looks back at Süss, and Süss comes alive again, begins seducing again, smiling and sparkling. Nazi audiences would read that scene as evidence of how sneaky and insincere Süss is. I read it as a demonstration of how genuinely tiresome it must have been for Süss to convince dolts of a worthy plan.
“Of course, to Nazi ideology, Süss’ feminine seductiveness is evil. This is made clear in two scenes in which Süss wears his most feminine attire: a white housecoat featuring puffed-top, bell sleeves, padded shoulders, pleated front, satin rickrack, and an elaborate, fringed belt. He wears it when he arrests Faber, and in his final showdown with Dorothea. The message is chillingly clear: in the pure, Aryan state, it is verboten for a man to dress in Joan Crawford’s loungewear. That the gender-bending was conscious is revealed in a parallelism. Dorothea invites a reluctant Faber into her bedroom. She asks, “Hast du angst?” “Are you afraid?” When Süss invites Dorothea into his bedroom, Süss asks her the exact same question.
“I realized I was watching the film on split screens. My mind was doing exactly what it does when I read the New York Times. To get to the truth of any story, I subtract their biases and apply what I know to be true. The Nazi Jew is a different species; he’s a form of typhus. I see a human being like myself. I see the dirt in the brief ghetto street scene and think, ‘Shame on those Germans who crowded Jews into substandard slums. Hurrah for Süss who’s working to get them out of there.’ A Nazi thinks, ‘If Jews gain entry into Stuttgart, they will contaminate Germans.’
“But it’s more than that,” Dee said. “Sometimes you love a character because you want to be like that character. Sometimes you merely want that character. And sometimes you see yourself in him or her. Jud Süss — c’est moi. How many times have I been told that I can’t get a fellowship or a tenure-track job, that I can’t publish, because I’m not the ethnicity the Ivory Tower rewards? As Süss struggles so hard against impossible odds to achieve what I assess as noble goals, as he flatters racist idiots who can’t begin to appreciate him, I see myself. I bond to this character. I protect him from any assault the film mounts against him. Given that I see a contrary narrative so clearly, I have to wonder if someone involved in the making of this film didn’t want it there all along. A time capsule, a subversive, smuggled message that freer and better people could see that Nazis could not.”
“You fell in love with a good character smuggled into a bad film,” I said.
“Süss becomes a pimp, a murderer, a torturer, and a rapist. And I loved him more and more.”
“Just how tolerant do I have to be during one phone call?” I asked.
“Maybe if I just keep talking about the movie we’ll both come to understand,” Dee said. “Eleven minutes into the film, Süss and Dorothea ‘meet cute’ to use the terminology of a very different genre, romantic comedy. Süss has traded his kaftan for the three-cornered hat, tailed jacket and tights of an eighteenth-century gentleman. His forelocks are gone; he’s wearing the same lip-skimming mustache as William Powell and Melvin Douglas, 1940’s suave Hollywood leading men. Süss is riding in a carriage and, hurrying to meet the duke, he passes a wagon; his carriage overturns. Nazi audiences would like the Jew’s fancy carriage undone by the Jew’s bypassing the humble German wagon. They would like the shot of Süss on the ground; they understood Jews as having risen too high; they wanted to see this Jew, in his parvenu costume, brought low.
“The wagon he had passed stops. Dorothea, the driver, offers help. They ride together to Stuttgart. Naive Dorothea does not realize that Süss is a Jew. It’s a beautiful day; a girl has the reins in her hands; she opens up to a handsome stranger.
“I would so love to travel, especially throughout the whole world. Have you been to Paris?”
Süss gazes at Dorothea as if she were the only item on his entire landscape.
“London, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon,” he catalogues, with just a soupcon of world weariness. He liked being all those places, but right now he likes having been to all those places most because it pleases this one girl.
“I wish I’d been there with you.” Dorothea overtly states her taboo attraction. Söderbaum is genuinely lovely here. She’s not the Nazi-propaganda-poster, taxidermy version of a pure, dumb blonde. Her eyes are large and lustrous. She bursts with life, youth, enthusiasm, possibility, as, perched on her wagon, she throws her back against the sky and allows herself to feel spontaneous warmth for a stranger, and to dream. Life, to the Nazis’ great regret, demands change, including the change of your cloistered daughter wishing she’d been with a Jew. Worldly Süss could offer parochial Dorothea so much. He’d love giving and she’d love receiving. There is a worm in the apple.
Dorothea asks, “Where did you feel most at home?”
“Everywhere,” Süss says, with an easy confidence, a joy in the variations life offers our palate.
Dorothea is scandalized. She has to be scandalized. Goebbels has just taken her character hostage. Söderbaum must abandon the genuine delight Dorothea had just shown Süss. “Everywhere? Don’t you have a home?”
“My home is the world,” Süss says.
The Nazis want us to see Süss’ pleasure in the world as an evil because Nazis were selling blood and soil; to enjoy Paris as much as Stuttgart is pathological. Süss’ use of French — ‘mademoiselle’ instead of ‘fraulein’ — further condemns him. For ‘Jud Süss’ to accomplish its vile, intended end, it must distort the trajectory these two characters would have had in a movie that climaxed in a gauzy shot of Dorothea and Süss strolling along the Seine.
Dorothea scolds, “That’s crazy. You must have felt happiest somewhere.”
Marian has evidently not gotten the memo. His Süss reveals no awareness that he is supposed to be ashamed of being a man of the world falling in love with a sweet blonde girl. “Mademoiselle,” Süss replies, “I think that I’ve never been happier than here in Stuttgart beside you. I’ve never felt this way in my entire life.” You feel Süss’ boyish delight. His innocent, overwhelmed body language is that of a puppy wagging his tail so friskily he risks wriggling out of his own skin. Every woman has seen that vulnerable expression on a man’s face and learns to be kind at such moments.
The Nazis want us to hate Süss for presuming to wear clothing that does not announce some essential ethnic identity. For enjoying Paris. For falling in love. Watching this scene, it’s not Süss I hate. It’s the Nazis.
“Dorothea brings Süss home. Süss graciously thanks Councilman Sturm, Dorothea’s father, for her assistance, and promises to repay his debt of gratitude. Peering at Süss, Faber, Dorothea’s scrawny, skull-faced, fiancé, who marches about with an almost visible stick up his butt, accuses, “That is a Jew.” Faber is identifying a species of animal. Süss does not deserve a name any more than a pig that wondered into the home. Faber’s grotesque nomenclature is consistent throughout the film. In the third person, Süss is ‘the Jew’; as a form of address, he is ‘Jew.’ The duke, his patron, calls Süss ‘Jew,’ ‘pig,’ and ‘devil.’
“After Faber’s identification, Dorothea stares with fright and condemnation. She must, now, dislike the man with whom she’d wanted to travel the world. Faber swaggers forward; without prologue, he orders Süss out of town. Faber narrows his eyes and raises his brows. He thrusts his body forward in a menacing manner. In a good wind, Faber would snap like a twig. The only thing that endows this ninety-pound bully his bravado is his own high status as a German, and Süss’ low status as a Jew. ‘There are no Jew hostels in Stuttgart,’ Faber barks. Süss, humiliated in front of Dorothea, lowers his eyes. Even given Faber’s advantage, he has not bested Süss. Süss exhibits complete mastery of self — something apparently beyond Faber — and of the situation. ‘My compliments on your knowledge of people, sir.’
“The social economics of this scene tells you much about Nazism. A person with a sense of fairness would award the scene to Süss. A bully who believes that Germans are endowed with the social sanction to humiliate Jews would award the scene to Faber.
“Like all expressions of stereotyping, ‘Jud Süss’ says more about the stereotyper than his object. In a film designed to make the viewer hate Jews, Germans depict Germans as fat bigots incapable of appreciating culture, as cheap and poor, and as being directly responsible for everything they interpret as misfortune.
“Duke Karl Alexander is grotesquely obese; he can’t sit without his massive belly practically hitting him in the chin. When he doesn’t get his way, he screams, sounding very like Hitler. I have to wonder if Heinrich George, who gives a terrific performance as the duke, didn’t subvert the character himself. George had been a Communist and was persecuted by the Nazis; he died in the then Soviet-controlled Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
“Councilman Sturm, Dorothea’s father, is a corpulent, charisma-free, bigot. His type of colorless authoritarian exists in American films solely to serve as straight man to Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis or Bugs Bunny. Süss eventually asks Sturm for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Süss promises that he will be good to the family; the movie has given evidence to support this. He offers Sturm high honors. Sturm rejects Süss’ offer with characteristic ugliness: ‘My daughter will bring no Jew children into this world,’ and, ‘What do you know of honor?’
“Faber eventually marries Dorothea, but the film makes clear that he never consummates this marriage. Councilman Sturm is away from the house, and Faber decides that since the patriarch is not on the premises, he must not take possession of the daughter. The film wants Dorothea to be a virgin when Süss deflowers her, thus to worsen his crime. In the end, though, this plot device emphasizes Faber’s complete ineffectuality, and Süss’ superhuman potency.
“The newly installed duke wants Stuttgart to have a ballet and an opera. The penny-pinching council denies these cultural advances. Süss brings ballet to Stuttgart. Wurttemberg’s roads are poor. Süss institutes a bridge and road tax and there is income to improve the roads. Horrors! Roads bring closer the outside world. Süss accomplishes all he does because he is manifestly smarter, more dedicated, and with a clearer vision. The council of Wurttemberg’s best and brightest meet; all these Aryan ubermenschen admit themselves powerless when confronted with one Jew. Germans accomplish one thing in this movie and one thing only: they kill one Jew.
“They could have said, ‘Süss is smart. Let’s send our kids to school. Süss is good with investments. Let’s learn finance. Süss is popular with the ladies. Let’s subscribe to Gentleman’s Quarterly. No. In ‘Jud Süss,’ Wurttembergers do what troglodytes always do — they blame the powerful other for all their problems. Political Correctness tells us that hate movements are all about feelings of the superiority of one’s own ethnic group. Not true. Hate is most virulent when it’s all about cultivated self pity, about denying one’s own power while demonizing an other imagined to be all-powerful.
“As it goes on, ‘Jud Süss’ feels less and less like a costume melodrama and more and more like a Twilight Zone version of Gulliver among the Lilliputians. Since the film insists so aggressively that only Jews appreciate beauty and culture and that only Jews think and plan, you yearn for another Jew with whom Süss can share his scenes. Other than his sidekick Levy, there are none. Süss is isolated. He has no Jewish alternative to Dorothea; he doesn’t even have a Jewish mother (Anne Revere would have been ideal.)”
“Okay,” I said. “I love Süss, too, now. But you say he goes on to become a murderer, a pimp, a torturer, and a rapist.”
“A pimp: Süss invites the prettiest maidens from all Wurttemberg to a masked ball at the palace. In a carefully orchestrated minuet, he parades the girls in front of the duke. Süss, as feminine as a five-year-old flirt trying to act like a grown-up woman, cajoles a modest lass to show her legs to the duke. The duke ogles, fondles one breast, and kisses one tearful girl. The Starr Report was more salacious.
“On the other hand, Süss could have any woman at that ball he wants, but, while the German duke exhibits all the discrimination of a rutting goat, Süss is a model of self-discipline. He does, casually, kiss one woman who throws herself at him while he defeats the Germans at playing cards, but his focus is on his gambling triumphs, not her.
“Suddenly, in a long, tight close-up, Süss’ calculating face melts with pleasure. The viewer wonders what he’s looking at. A strand of expensive pearls? No, it’s Dorothea. Only she has this effect on him.
“Her mask is unique; it’s constructed of the kind of black lace usually seen in I-mean-business brassieres. The hypocrisy of Nazi ideology: Dorothea must be a virgin, but in a tramp’s mask. Dorothea casts an R-rated, pouty look at Süss. Real rejection does not so smolder. Süss gets her alone. He remembers their initial meeting: ‘I just want to see you laugh as you did back in your wagon.’ His yearning for his one moment of pure happiness and for laughter is poignant and understandable. Süss has heard, loud and clear, Dorothea’s mixed messages. ‘Hot lips cold heart? Can your heart stop what your lips promise?’ He kisses her neck. She pushes him away.
“You know how Nazis want you to read this: Jews corrupt women. I’m not going to read anything the way the Nazis want me to. I found this sequence smokin’ hot in an entirely politically incorrect way, and not just to spite the Nazis.”
“Ooooo kay. Murderer?”
“Hans Bogner, a blacksmith, refuses to pay the road tax. As punishment, Süss slices off the front wall of Bogner’s house. A shot of the house, its interior exposed by the missing front wall, is meant to evoke vulnerability and humiliation. The movie is stating: ‘Jews have invaded our German home and are exposing us all to danger and ridicule.’ With his blacksmith’s hammer, Bogner lunges at Süss; Süss has him hung. This sequence is heavy-handed. Süss had been depicted as being far too calculating to turn the masses against him with such an obvious blunder. At that point I wasn’t viewing the movie on a split screen; I just left that scene on the cutting room floor. In any case, potentates in centuries past were never delicate when it came to which would-be assassin they sent to the gallows. Pius IX supported the beheading of a man who threatened a high churchman with a fork. And Pius is a candidate for sainthood.”
“You sound like Süss’ lawyer. You said Süss tortures someone?”
“Within the world of the swashbuckler film, torture scenes are de rigueur. They serve as contrast to the genre’s emphasis on noble heroism, which can get boring. And suspending a young Tyrone Power by his wrists and slathering him with oil is always a good way to highlight his physique. These are over-the-top fantasies in dank dungeons, scenes a fifth grader could watch without being traumatized, scenes that induce as many giggles as cringes. In ‘Captain Blood,’ Basil Rathbone, a perfectly delicious villain, menaces a helpless prisoner with a stretch of barbed wire. ‘This is the rosary of pain,’ he says. ‘It is possible to screw a man’s eyes out of his head.’ My sister and I threw that line at each other for weeks. The verbal foreplay is always a much worse bark than the genre’s bite. You never see anything on camera.
“‘Jud Süss’ adheres to these G-rated guidelines. Faber knows of an insurrection. Süss interrogates him but Faber refuses to talk. Süss sends him to the dungeon, where a German — not a Jew — takes delight in describing the torture to Faber. Screws draw two horseshoes closer together; Faber’s hands rest between them. The professional torturer attempts the witty repartee typical of the genre, asking, ‘Is this really fun for you?’ But he’s no Basil Rathbone.”
Chapter Three: The Rape Scene
“You said he rapes someone.”
“Yes. Back at the Sturm household, Dorothea paces. She’s wearing anachronistic dress and shoes that would be at home on a 1940 street. The film is saying loud and clear: ‘Modern German women, don’t make Dorothea’s mistakes.’ Dorothea is wringing a handkerchief in her hands; she goes to a window. The handkerchief and the window will be prominent motifs in the next scene.
“The viewer knows what Dorothea knows. Süss wants her. Süss is taboo for no other reason than that he is a Jew. Süss has her husband. Once Dorothea stops pacing, she’s going to go to the palace and offer the only possible exchange.
“Real rape is a horrible crime that should immediately cease, period. Women’s rape fantasies dramatized in popular entertainments are something completely other. When they convey an erotic charge to women, as ‘Jud Süss’ rape scene did (fans sent Marian ‘baskets of love letters’), it’s not because real women really want to be raped. It’s because rape scenes are a way of communicating features that women fans find attractive. One: the woman is so overwhelmed that she can overcome any inhibitions and focus on pure passion. A person without agency cannot decide not to have sex. She’s not thinking about the cellulite on her thighs or the kids in the next room. Two: the woman gets to feel supremely desirable. ‘He wanted me so much he had to have me. My allure inflamed him.’ Three: passionate sex. Four: the man is powerful. Five: if the woman feels misgivings about wanting the man she wants, a rape fantasy can cleanse her of any responsibility. Dorothea gets to want the Jew Süss, and, because she was raped, Dorothea can still claim to be a virtuous Aryan maiden who would never stoop so low as willingly to have sex with the Jew Süss.
“A related feature from romance fiction: the man is polite and conventional on the surface, obedient to societal constraints, but, beneath, he’s a cauldron of riotous passions, under tight reign. The woman triggers him, and he explodes. The epitome is Darcy from ‘Pride and Prejudice.’
“‘Jud Süss’ rape scene is constructed with a diabolical mastery to satisfy cravings for all of these features. It is even more economical in its exploitation of female fantasy than ‘Gone with the Wind’s’ rape scene. I can’t escape the suspicion that somebody did everything they could to exculpate Süss, and to make him as attractive as possible, and that Goebbels was just too stupid to excise this from the finished product. On the other hand, hardcore anti-Semites will merely decide, ‘We’ve got to kill Jews because our women love them too much.’
“Süss has had at least two other lovers: the duke’s wife, the duchess herself, and an attractive groupie whom he treats dismissively and calls a ‘goose.’ Both of these women are in thrall to him; we conclude that he’s good in bed.
“It’s close to the end of the movie. We’ve witnessed Süss enduring, with equanimity, every insult imaginable. He’s finally striking back. He’s finally going to get his. If you’ve come to identify with him, you receive vicarious pleasure watching him turn from victim to aggressor. It’s like watching Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky get knocked down and knocked down, and, finally, in the last act, Rocky punches back. In ‘Gone with the Wind,’ Rhett has put up with all of Scarlett’s shenanigans, and finally, he shows Scarlett who’s boss; he finally releases his pure passion; he finally evens the score.
“Dorothea goes to Süss; he does not approach her. She goes to his private chambers, not the court. When Dorothea arrives, Süss is wearing his Joan Crawford loungewear, a giant red flag. She is wearing a religious-looking veil; in fact, it’s exactly the kind of veil that Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto used to wear so that she could look sexy and chic while still satisfying Muslim requirements. Dorothea proffers a large piece of paper, an appeal for her husband’s freedom.
“Süss, looking bored, rises from his breakfast table, takes the sheet from Dorothea, and tears it, once, loudly. Dorothea collapses into a chair at the table. Süss, like Swann, having waited so long, finally able to kiss his Odette, pauses to fully live this moment. Ever so coolly, almost with disdain, he removes Dorothea’s veil. The veil and the torn paper symbolize Dorothea’s hymen, which Süss will similarly tear and remove.
“Fully inhabiting the melodrama genre, maiden-in-distress Dorothea flutteringly pleads, ‘Have mercy!’ She asks, ‘Have you then no heart?’ A modern viewer wants to laugh at her histrionics.
“Süss is momentarily inhabiting an entirely different genre: psychological realism. He speaks softly and dispassionately. ‘I had a heart. I always used to be merciful, mademoiselle. Ah, pardon, madame.’ Though he had not been invited, he reveals awareness of Dorothea’s recent wedding. The viewer supplies Süss’ unspoken thoughts: ‘I had mercy before every German in this film treated me like dirt. Before you turned your back to me, just because you discovered my ethnicity.’ Any viewer who feels himself to be a wounded romantic might identify. It is Süss alone who is expressing genuine human emotions.
“Dorothea, insisting on being as dense, insulting, or hypocritical as possible, offers Süss a ring as a bribe. Süss chuckles. ‘A small ring, for a small hand.’ ‘Do you want to see a ring?’ he taunts. He rises, walks, and then stands at the foot of his extravagant, unmade bed, a star of David carved prominently into its golden footboard. He might as well be brandishing a neon sign: ‘I’m a Jew and if you come any closer, you’re going to end up in that bed with me.’
“Dorothea does come closer. Süss displays one of his gigantic jewels. ‘Do you still think you could get me with your little ring?’ He’s mocking her cheap assessment of him. Arms across her chest, he embraces her from behind. ‘Do you want it?’ he asks, clearly no longer inquiring about a piece of jewelry.
“When Süss had kissed Dorothea at the masquerade, he also embraced her from behind. Implications of doggy style sex communicate Süss’ presumed animality, and allow the viewer the shock of seeing Süss’ dark, Jewish face and Dorothea’s blonde Aryan one at the same time.
“Dorothea tosses Süss to the ground: the hated Jew brought low; Süss also falls to the ground in his road accident. But allowing Dorothea to overpower Süss so easily has an unintended consequence. This Kraut chick is as mighty as a female East German Olympic athlete. If she had really wanted to avoid a fate worse than race death, she could.”
“She wanted it,” I said.
“Of course she wanted it. Wouldn’t you? I’m shouting, at the screen, ‘Surrender Dorothy! Throw in your lot with Süss. You’ll be farting through silk. Trade your mugwort for truffles. Mugwort tastes like mothballs!’
“Süss rises from the floor. He’s ready to play his trump card. He had placed Faber in a nearby room. Süss places his handkerchief on the window in a prearranged signal to the torturer, who then applies the screws to Faber. Faber screams. Dorothea recognizes the voice. All she has to do to rescue her husband, Süss says, is ‘Give it up.’
“Dorothea clings to Süss’ damask curtains, and prays. For the first time in the film, Süss uncorks his rage on a gentile. ‘You just pray. Pray to your God. But not only you Christians have a God. We Jews also have one, and he’s the God of wrath. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth.’
“Süss’ polite façade has been stripped. He’s about to relax the exquisite control he’s been exercising on his obviously potent powers. Süss is stripping off his own mask, and Dorothea’s as well. ‘Cut the shit,’ he’s saying. ‘We’ve been circling each other for the previous hour of this movie. You’ve imagined what it would be like to be with me. Let’s find out.’ In lieu of Süss smacking the bovine stupidity off of Dorothea’s vapid Nazi blonde face, this scene works really well for me. Süss will release passion so monumental only the Old Testament can supply the metaphor. Dorothea is going to have sex so great, she’ll see Jehovah. Charlton Heston should be narrating.
“I so wish that this scene were merely the same innocent, titillating fun that scenes like it are in hundreds of other costume movies. The absolute horror is that it is not. The stereotype that Jews lack mercy, follow an Old Testament God of wrath, and corrupt women were among many used to justify the Holocaust. As a movie lover, my head wants to explode. I tell myself I’m on the right side — the same side as Süss. But I’m not. I’m on the same side as Ferdinand Marian, an actor in a Nazi propaganda film. My head wants to explode twice.
“Süss tosses Dorothea onto the bed, and the scene abruptly — and all too quickly — ends. Süss, as ever, is as good as his word; Faber is immediately released. Dorothea runs through a wooded area. I can only imagine director Veit Harlan’s direction to Söderbaum, his wife. ‘Darling, I want you to look really stupid here. And, in this scene, slacken every corpuscle that might betray evidence of thought. Finally, in the post-rape, pre-suicide scene, if you could just imitate a lobotomized gerbil. Cut! Print it!’ Blank-faced Dorothea throws herself into the Neckar River.
“Dorothea’s death is overdetermined; it had to happen for many reasons. We know one: she killed herself because she chose sex with a Jew. She killed herself by water to cleanse herself. You can’t imagine this movie with Dorothea still alive. Any pleasure she showed would indict her. To Nazism, her corpse is more desirable than her living spirit.
“Reminiscent of Viking funerals and the 1931 film, ‘Frankenstein,’ torch-wielding villagers on boats retrieve Dorothea’s body, which is no less expressive than when she was alive. Torches still in hand, they go after Süss — he is, like Frankenstein, a monster who must be destroyed. The obese duke succumbs to a long overdue heart attack. Süss is tried and condemned to death for having had relations with a non-Jew. Apparently bringing ballet to a German city was not yet a capital crime. The script plays transparent, desperate games in an attempt to exculpate the Aryans from an ‘an eye for an eye’ approach. In fact, their version of justice is far worse.
“Councilman Sturm issues a proclamation. Germans must eject Jews in order to protect future generations, no doubt from scourges like French vocabulary, commerce, and improved roads. But in the universe of ‘Jud Süss,’ there are no future Aryan generations. Dorothea, the only main character who is a fertile female, had sex with only one man, a Jew. She’s dead. Virginal Faber has no candidates for a new wife. Scattered among assorted fat, old German men, the only likely characters who could be pregnant are Süss’ mistresses. This nihilistic dead-end in the name of Aryan purity reflects the wind the Nazis sowed and the whirlwind the Germans reaped. They sent their underage sons to fight the advancing Western Allies and Goebbels murdered his own six children even as the vengeance-obsessed Red Army entered Germany from the East and, as a matter of policy, raped every German female they found.”
Chapter Four: To Rehabilitate “Jud Süss”?
There was silence. “That’s it?” I asked.
“I’m talked out,” Dee said.
“No ringing appeal for the rehabilitation of ‘Jud Süss’?
“I’m so glad I don’t have that power,” Dee said. “Look, If ‘Jud Süss’ had not been commissioned and exploited by Goebbels — and I’m well aware that that is an insurmountable ‘if’ — it never would have the reputation it has. Howard Hawks’ 1932 film ‘Scarface: The Shame of the Nation’ depicts Italians as Neanderthals: idiotic, pidgin-talking, directly responsible for corrupting America. The only solution is a bloodbath: Scarface, his sister, his partners, all are shot to death on camera. In Elia Kazan’s 1951 ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ an endlessly malevolent, ‘greasy Polak’ destroys a refined American woman. In John Ford’s 1956 ‘The Searchers’ savage Indians kidnap white girls. Anyone who argues that they can watch ‘Gone with the Wind’ and focus on its crane shots, and let its imbecilic, happy slaves go right over her head, and then says you can’t watch ‘Jud Süss’ as a movie, is a hypocrite.
“In strict terms of stereotypical content, ‘Jud Süss’ is comparable to Philip Roth’s, Mordecai Richler’s, Mel Brooks’, or Lenny Bruce’s work. It’s comparable to Chris Rock’s or Dave Chapelle’s depiction of blacks. And please explain to me why Shakespeare’s Shylock, Chaucer’s blood libel and Charles Dickens’ Fagin are assigned to students anew each year, and Hollywood regularly re-introduces them. The Coen Brothers’ new film, ‘A Serious Man,’ according to Village Voice reviewer Ella Taylor, ‘is crowded with fat Jews, aggressive Jews, traitor Jews, loser Jews, shyster-Jews, Jews who slurp their chicken soup, and—passing as sages—a clutch of yellow-teethed, know-nothing rabbis.’
“I’m not saying ‘Jud Sus’ is above suspicion; I’m saying everything else is suddenly suspect. The movie never mentions genocide. If this relatively tame costume melodrama can be one step on a slippery slope to genocide, what else might not be exploited? What else might not be demonized and banned? Well?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean yes. I tell ethnic jokes. I tell dead baby jokes. I’ve never killed a baby.”
“I thought ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was the most anti-war film ever made, but young men came out of it gung-ho to join the military. I thought Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 movie ‘Inglorious Bastards’ was the most evil character I’d ever seen, but female fans are in love with him. Scholar Paula Fredricksen predicted that violence would break out after ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ Never happened. Neo-Nazis and Muslim anti-Semites have adopted ‘Jud Süss.’ How would normal, healthy people react to it? My guess? They’d be bored. It’s a creaky, old, black-and-white, subtitled melodrama.”
“The world has changed,” I said. “Globalization, postmodernism, capitalism. Nobody eats mugwort any more. It’s all pizza / tacos / pad thai. Aren’t we all, now, uprooted, striving outsiders?”
“And,” Dee said. “Even the way we receive movies has changed. Reading against the intended, overt message has become mainstream. In ‘Inglorious Bastards,’ Shoshanna Dreyfus is a Jewish girl whose family was murdered by Nazis. Fredrick Zoller is a sniper who’s killed a record number. Shoshanna shoots Fredrick; he shoots her; their bodies lie in a pool of blood on the floor of a theater that is burned and bombed. You can find fan fiction where all of these apparently terminal events become temporary inconveniences. Shoshanna and Fredrick survive the bullets and the bomb and the fire and overcome the animus between Jews and Germans and become lovers. Fans say it’s true, so, it’s true.”
I suddenly knew, even if Dee did not, why she had phoned me at three a.m. “Okay, Dee. Tell me. Tell me how ‘Jud Süss’ really ends.”
There was some hesitation, but she finally spoke. “Swashbucklers need a hair’s breadth escape, and there isn’t one in the official ‘Jud Süss.’
“I’d keep the composition of the closing scene. All of Stuttgart has turned out to watch the Jew hang. The Aryans are arrayed in orderly rows, in a square shape. The square is the most earthbound of geometric forms. These people truly are ‘square’ in the beatnik sense. They cannot transcend. Süss is suspended above them in a cylindrical cage. The cage is elevated with a rope. Süss rises above the mob, higher and higher. The film mocks Süss with this rise.
“It is winter. It is dark. Snow is falling. Stuttgart’s insistence on lynching its most interesting resident, on exiling its Jews, will plunge this city into a long, dark night. The falling snow could be ash.
“But! In my version, Süss had a loyal retainer at the palace. With a few bribes, this servant convinces the hangman to let go of the rope at the last minute. As in the official version, with a jerk, Süss descends from the cage, but not to his death. In my version, he drops to join his rescuer on the valiant steed below. Süss and his trusty companion ride off to new life. Curtain.”
“Just one question, Dee. Does the loyal retainer bare any resemblance to an eighteenth-century version of you?”
“Like I said,” Dee insisted, “Curtain.”
The University of Northampton’s HEART, “Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team,” devotes an excellent and informative page to the history of the Nazis’ exploitation of “Jud Süss.” HEART calls “Jud Süss” “history’s most incendiary film.” Goebbels called it “An Anti-Semitic film of the kind we could only wish for.” “Jud Süss” won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Professor Randall Bytwerk of Calvin University has posted the flier distributed for the film. Thanks to Professor Bytwerk for his granting permission to reuse one of the images here.
The imdb page for director Oskar Roehler’s 2010 feature film about Ferdinand Marian’s part in “Jud Süss,” also titled “Jud Süss”: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1399655/
The Jewish Encyclopedia’s Webpage on Joseph Süss Oppenheimer, the historical inspiration for “Jud Süss”:
“Jud Süss” was based on an internationally bestselling novel by German Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger. Feuchtwanger’s “Jud Süss” was met with huge sales and critical acclaim. Feuchtwanger’s novel “Success” included a thinly veiled and very unflattering portrait of Hitler. One wonders if Goebbels pounced upon Feuchtwanger’s retelling of “Jud Süss” out of revenge.
Professor Ralph Blumenau offers a nuanced review of Feuchtwanger’s “Jud Süss,” calling it an “uncomfortable book.”
A September 7, 2009 “Jerusalem Post” article examining “The Many Faces of ‘Jud Süss'” focuses on the question of Jewish assimilation to surrounding, non-Jewish populations. It mentions that Feuchtwanger published a letter in the Atlantic Monthly, directed to the director and stars of “Jud Süss,” many of whom he had known, condemning them for their exploitation of his novel and their turning it into an Anti-Semitic film.
I was Jud Süss: http://www.ich-war-jud-suess.de/
Film scholar Eric Rentschler devotes a chapter of his book, The Ministry of Illusion: Nazi Cinema and Its Afterlife to “Jud Süss.” Rentschler emphasizes the “monstrous,” and “notorious” nature of “Jud Süss,” calling it “one of the most hideous movies ever made.” His analysis focuses on director Veit Harlan’s use of dissolves to emphasize the Nazi depiction of Jews as deceptive.
German Studies scholar Linda Schulte-Sasse devotes one chapter of her book, Entertaining the Third Reich: Illusions of Wholeness in Nazi Cinema to “Jud Süss.” She outlines in detail how the Nazis’ stereotype of the Jew was meant to be the opposite of the Nazis’ stereotypical German. She also protests the film’s misogyny, and relates “Jud Süss” to German and European culture including the use of the harpsichord, bourgeois tragedy, and the opera “Tosca.” Schulte-Sasse acknowledges Marian’s sexual appeal as Süss. Schulte-Sasse sees Dorothea as Wurttemburg, and Faber, his hands in torture devices, the Aryan man impotent to protect his territory from Jewish deprivation. Süss’ rape of Dorothea is, further, comparable to Dracula’s predation on his victims. Schulte-Sasse points out that contemporary publicity stills for “Jud Süss” featured Dorothea in the attire she wore in the rape scene, and paired with Süss. In the only photo in which Faber appears, Faber is in the background. He, not Süss, is the intruder. Schulte-Sasse points out the Harlan reported that he had directed a bold exit for Süss, but Goebbels demanded that Süss die in a more cowardly fashion, begging for his life.
A ten minute compilation of Ferdinand Marian film clips and stills. He was a pretty good dancer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5nV5URZE9I
Florida Governor Charlie Crist received a copy of “Jud Süss” from a self-identified “white activist.” A thank you letter, with the governor’s signature, was sent in reply.