Joseph Süß Oppenheimer - biography
Joseph Süß Oppenheimer (1698 Heidelberg – 1738 Stuttgart) was a Jewish banker and financial planner for Duke Karl Alexander of Württemberg in Stuttgart. He was a nephew and stepson of the banker Samuel Oppenheimer, diplomat and Shtadlan to Kaiser Leopold of Austria.
Throughout his career, Oppenheimer made scores of powerful enemies, some of whom conspired to bring about his arrest and execution after Karl Alexander's death. In the centuries since his execution, Oppenheimer's rise and fall have been treated in two notable literary works, and his ordeal inspired two films, including an antisemitic production released by the Nazis in 1940.
As a financial advisor for Duke Karl Alexander, Duke of Württemberg, he also gained a prominent position as a court Jew and held the reins of the finances in his duchy. He established a duchy monopoly on the trade of salt, leather, tobacco and liquor and founded a bank and porcelain factory. In the process, he gained a number of envious enemies who, among other things, claimed that he was involved with local gambling houses.
Arrest, trial, conviction
When his protector Karl Alexander suddenly died on March 12, 1737, Oppenheimer was arrested and accused of various things, including fraud, embezzlement, treason, lecherous relations with the court ladies, accepting bribes and trying to re-establish Catholicism. The Jewish community tried unsuccessfully to ransom him. After a heavily publicized trial during which no proofs were produced, he was sentenced to death. When his jailers demanded that he convert to Christianity, he refused.
Joseph Süß Oppenheimer was led to the gallows on February 4, 1738, and given a final chance to convert to Christianity, which he refused to do. Thereafter, he was hanged and died on Kiddush Hashem, with his last words being the Shema Yisrael. His corpse was gibbeted in a human-sized bird cage that hung outside of Stuttgart on the so-called Pragsattel (the public execution place at that time) for six years, until the inauguration of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who permitted the hasty burial of his corpse at an unknown location.
In literature, art and film
His story, under the title Jud Süß or Jew Süß was the subject of an 1827 novella by Wilhelm Hauff, a 1925 historical novel by Lion Feuchtwanger, a 1934 British film where he was portrayed by actor Conrad Veidt, and a Nazi propaganda film made in 1940 by Veit Harlan where he was portrayed by actor Ferdinand Marian. In the 1990s the German sculptor Angela Laich created a sculpture devoted to Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, as well as illustrations for German historian Hellmut G. Haasis's book Joseph Süß Oppenheimer genannt Jud Süß. Finanzier, Freidenker, Justizopfer.