Modern Horrors: Jud Süß (1940)

This last week I visited the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art for a school project. They have a Holocaust section, and there I saw the poster for a 1940 Nazi propaganda picture, Jud Süß, which I’d seen jud suss 001 e1296248335313 Modern Horrors: Jud Süß (1940)some years back in L.A. The film is a monstrous yet hypnotic nightmare, and I was startled as to how quickly the details of the film came rushing back into my brain.

The film was partially conceived to compete with Hollywood productions; the medieval setting is marvelous and rich, the costuming lavish,and  while director/screenplay write Veit Harlan is no Fritz Lang, his direction is sure and confident. But make no mistake about it, this is a monster movie, and the monster is the Jewish race. This is no Frankenstein; there are no moments of sympathy, no misunderstanding of intentions; the unrelenting, raw hate for the monster  is almost unbearable. It was the most popular movie in Germany in 1940.

Today it is banned in many European countries, including, naturally, Germany, and the copyright holders, The Murnau Foundation, only allows screenings if there is a speaker to explain the context and meaning of the film. There are some bootleg DVDs floating around, and I imagine they are very popular with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.

The story is based on a novel, which was loosely based on some historical happenings. The novel was actually a statement against anti-semitism, but the Nazi propaganda machine twisted the story around.

It’s a fairly straightforward story. Joseph Suss Oppenheimer is a Jewish money lender; the Duke of Württemberg can’t afford to keep his best gal in the style which she demands, so he turns to Süß, for help. Süß, makes generous loans again and again, using the Duke’s ever-increasing debt to gain power over him and move up in society.  Süß, lusts after a young blonde Aryan girl, and through manipulation, gets her in a position where she has to have sex with him or her husband will be killed. Thus defiled, the woman kills herself. The Duke picks that unfortunate time to die and the populace rises up in outrage. Süß, is captured and sentenced to hang. He is hoisted in a cage far above the town square, pleading and whining for his life the whole time. The crowd gathers, the bottom of the cage is dropped and Suß hangs, Fade out.

The horror of the story comes from the portrayal of Süß, and his friends. Every ant-Semitic stereotype you’ve ever heard of is applied to every Jewish character, with the possible exception of mixing the blood of Christian children in with their matzah: Big noses, oily complexions, living in filth, greedy grasping, plotting the overthrow of the world government through their control of banking, having no loyalty to any country but only to their race, gross amorality and, of course, their basic lust for white women, especially blondes. These people aren’t even animals, these are cockroaches walking like men, which is a familiar Nazi comment in documents from the war-time period.

I’d seen (and continue to see) these stereotypes around, but usually there is some sort of attempt at humorous camoflauge thrown over them; Little Jewish tailors with hook noses and glasses making some kind of screw-the-customer ha-ha comment. These are offensive and mean spirited, but they strike me as almost innocent compared to Jud Süß.

I guess I have never known a real hard-core racist. I know people who say they dislike ethnic groups as a whole, but never act on it, and, in fact, I sometimes think they don’t even believe it. This is just a part of the country where its part of your upbringing and you repeat what you’ve heard growing up the same way you find yourself repeating some of your parents’s stock proverbs from time to time. This doesn’t excuse anything, mind you. But I have never met anyone that out and out really honest-to-God hates a particular group of people, hates them to the point of advocating actions against them or being willing  to take that action themselves. I know they are out there; that’s scary.

That hate is what comes across so strongly in Jud Süß. The people making this movie aren’t really trying to win converts to their cause, though I’m sure that was part of the plan. It is largely preaching to the choir, telling you  that every vile thing you have ever thought about the Jews is not only true, it’s truer than you ever thought. I guess the film-makers and the German public of that day missed the parts where the so-called “good guys” willingly go into hock financing their own stupid lusts and plans; the fact that all those superior white people can’t seem to figure out how to save their cash or even lend it on their own. No, their faults are somehow the result of the Jews.

Yeah, and government regulation caused the BP oil spill.

Though I believe in the free dissemination of ideas, I have to come down on the side of the censors in this case, though I am troubled by it. But I know a guy who thinks the Errol Flynn Charge of the Light Brigade is accurate history; a movie like Jüd Suß is dangerous. That other monument to Nazi propaganda, Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, is awe-inspiring yet the propaganda message is fairly easy to reject. The power of drama is such that, even as you know Jud Süß is a crazy man’s warped perspective, you get sucked into the story nonetheless. Assuming a strong script and solid actors, how can you not sympathize with someone getting the screws put to them by a manipulative, cowardly scavenger? Yet, unless you have bought into anti-Semitism, you can see right through that stereotype, and that conflict is what causes the horror, at least for me. It’s surreal and disturbing in a way that no tentacled creature could ever be.

Given Lovecraft’s own racism, one wonders if he was just all-talk or would have been an ardent supporter of the ideas and themes in this movie. I hate to think he would be, but, at least from his early writings, I’m afraid he would be. As far as I know, the movie was never shown in the U.S. I’ll stick with Cthulhu, thank you very much.

Last week, by the way, January 27, was Holocaust Remembrance Day. google and the Yad Vashem Photo Archive debuted part 1 of a new project documenting the Holocaust. Over 13,000 photos and documents are up. It’s a chilling reminder of why films like Jud Süßcan be so dangerous.

^ 23 Comments...

  1. joxn

    Love your website and weblog. That said, you got the umlauts exactly backwards: it should be “Jud Süß”.

    I just watched a documentary on Veit Harlan, “In the shadow of Jew Suss” — which I have to disrecommend, because it spends way too much time on Harlan’s descendants and their reactions to Harlan’s legacy, and not nearly enough time on the actual shadow of Jud Süß the film. I think the horror of this film especially in the context of the holocaust is still too fresh to spend 1h 45m on quasi-cathartic psychotherapeutic examinations of the children and grandchildren of the Nazi who perpetrated it.

    If you get a chance to see other examples of Nazi cinema it’s well worth your time. I took a grad class on the topic, and it was both harrowing and fascinating.

  2. Felix Pleșoianu

    Not long ago, I would have agreed with you that in such a case censorship might actually be justified. In the mean time, I learned that censorship (along with any form of control) is a slippery slope. Once you start sliding, you simply don’t stop. Better to have such a monstrous movie (pun not intended) circulating, than to go down that route.

    That said, it’s a fascinating history lesson. Thank you.

  3. Stygian Depths

    Funny you mention this, as I just caught a reference to it the other day. If you haven’t yet, you should pick up a Vertigo title called “Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross (the pair behind “Lucifer”). The first two volumes of the graphic novel are out, and it’s astoundingly well-written and drawn. Flat out the best graphic novel I’ve read in years. Anyhow, back to the point, the second volume has a whole story that references Jud Suss in a big way.

  4. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    Lovecrafts primary moral failing involved people of colour, not Jewery: national socialism helped make that clear to him, being blatantly anti-intellectual & not “materialistic” enough in its racist definitions.
    He did NOT reject the nazis due to unwordlyness or increasing sensitivity: Lovecraft favoured the klu klux klan.

    Am against censorship, in general: Jüd Suß seems to be fine anti-nazi instructional material; of course, context is vital- the ban in Germany, in particular, is quite acceptable, as a matter of principle if nothing else.

    I also think ‘Medusa’s Coil`should be restricted in English; but i am aware personal issues are involved.

    Find the way you use the term “white” interesting-seems to be an US tradition?

  5. lovecraf

    Watching those films in the context of a class seems ideal. I picked up a copy of Jud Süß (correction noted) not knowing what it was as I’ve always been interested in German cinema.

  6. lovecraf

    In one sense you’re absolutely right, there’s no end to it once you get started, and that has always been my belief. But films like this one, well, I wouldn’t want them banned outright but I do feel they need to be shown in a context. If you take all the Islamic terrorists in all the American movies from 1980 and mashed them altogether into a single film you still wouldn’t have anything that exudes the sheer hatred of Jud Süß. Those terrorists were definitely stereotypes, but they were unfortunately convenient, but shallow; none of the movies that used them (that I’ve seen, anyway) had as its one clear driving force the goal of building and encouraging hatred towards a group of people

  7. lovecraf

    In 1916 HPL wrote to his pal Rheinheart Kleiner, regarding his attendance at Hope Street High School, “It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant with their classes–calculatingly and schemingly brilliant–but their ideals were sordid and their manners coarse.I became known as an anti-Semite before I had been at Hope Street many days.”

    Not to say he was consistent in that belief or that he didn’t change his mind over time, but HPL didn’t care for Jews. Neither, in fact, did the Lu Klux Klan.

    As always, you enlarge my world, for I’ve never read “Medusa’s Coil,” but what with being snowed in today, I’ll pull it down off the shelf and rectify that little flaw.

    I’m not sure what you mean by my use of the term ‘white.’ It may well be a tradition here, or at least a common way of speaking. Reminds me of another horribly racist film, this one from the U.S., called The Lost City, a 1935, 15 chapter serial. It’s an awful and inept movie, but at one point, the heroes are moving through the African jungle and hear a scream. The party’s leader says, “That sounded like a white woman.” Is that what you are getting at?

  8. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    @lovecraf:
    So ineradicably that he ended up marrying a semite. & before exposure to that clown, Hitler, even. (I can but refer to the several letters in which he berates nazi germany for imposing segregational laws on Jewery-similar to those he supported feverently his entire life inflicted on coloured people in the US- as evidence).
    That Lovecrafts more unselective biographers have tried to imply that his change of position on the Jewish “race”-even the somewhat more evident Jewish cultures-in any way affected his other racist dogmas is understandable, but is one i strongly oppose:it is a gross glossing over of how central the black(“irrationalism”)/white (“rationalism”) racist system was to his paradigm. For example, whilst the imputation that Lovecraft was an erotophobe is-with all due respect to Mr. Moore- bunkum, he did grow -chronically- hysterical on one specific sexual subject-relations between white men & women of colour….

    … & I would very much not like being responsible for provoking anyone into reading “Medusa’s Coil”.
    Studying
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Nine_Angles
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zecharia_Sitchin
    http://www.666blacksun.com/Adolf_%20Hitler.html
    would be less of a waste of time. (Apparently, the latter group, “The Joy of Satan”, considers Old Nick to be an extraterrestial sea-monster…as well as, of course, “aryan”.
    Oh, & “Beware! Toxic Waste!”).

    “White” as naturally including the rest of WASP, not (one must assume?) women emoting about the high prices on sunblock. Have encountered it used thus but once in an UK context-involving Sacha Cohen-& it was remarked upon.

    @Plesioanu:
    One agrees whole-heartedly: but a “Warning! Contains excrement!” lable on “Jud Süß” (thank you, joxn) would be a public service, not censorship.

  9. Xaeromancer

    Given his generally unstable state, it’s most likely that Lovecraft’s racism was “all talk.” It would be easy to suspect him of being polite enough to someone’s face, conforming to his own view of himself as a gentleman, while laying into them in his correspondence. Of course, this is pure speculation, but then Lovecraft’s contradictory nature abounds for anything. In his latter days, he had phobias of both the cold and of excessive heat!

    The Order of Nine Angles is a particularly unpleasant proposition. It’s hard to imagine anyone who devotes themselves to both militant racism and a left-handed magical tradition as being able to function in any sort of civilised society.

    Censorship is a slippery beast. There are situations where anti-fascists are charged with using (barred) swastikas in their material and copies of Mein Kampf are burned in a horrible irony. But, of course, obscene and dangerous material should be kept out of the hands of those whom it would harm. It’s a situation where a little common sense goes a long way and too much thought leads to madness.

    Also, good call on The Unwritten, I’ll be looking into that.

  10. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    @Xaeromancer:
    Being phobic is not the same as being unstable (& thats the first time one has read he was thermophobic? Or that his cryophobia was merely of his “latter days”?): & Lovecraft was anything but contradictory.
    For example, he was higly unlikely to slander anyone behind their backs: as the Kleiner letter quoted by, er, Larry illustrates.

    The Order seems to be an extreme development of self-help “philosophy”. As for their place in civilized society, they seem set on removing it…though as for the “negative energy” Eliphas Levy component, basing ones metaphysics on pop culture is, unfortunatly, not that abnormal.

  11. Mike Fang

    You know it’s funny; people talk about Lovecraft as a racist, but I don’t always get that impression from his writings. My impression has been that when he talks about groups of people being degenerate or mongrels, it’s not meant to reflect on their entire ethnic group, but on that particular group of people from a certain town, area of a city, or region who display various physical and behavioral signs of unhealthy living. In hindsight, however, I suppose this could be the result of my own personal viewpoint of trying not to assume more than what’s presented; could be Lovecraft did, in fact, cast the net over every person who shared the heritage of the people he tended to make the villains in his stories; Asian people (see The Horror at Red Hook), Middle Eastern people (see Red Hook again), rural countryfolk (see The Dunwitch Horror), and so forth.

    Still there are signs that Lovecraft may have seen the error of being so elitist about race. In his story “The Temple,” he writes from the first person narration of a German submarine captain, who is shamelessly egotistical about the stock from which he came, even to the point of discriminating among his own countrymen by which region they came from. Of course this could also be seen as a racist dig at Germans and an example of the pot calling the kettle black.

    In a nutshell, I have to stand by my opinion of Lovecraft as it has been for a while now: he was a brilliant, imaginative writer, but I wouldn’t consider him any sort of authority on a number of subjects, including spirituality and social issues.

    Now, on the subject of censorship, I think it’s unfortunate that the subject has to be “all or nothing,” but sadly it does. The reasons have pretty much already been given; the slippery slope argument in particular, and most are legitimate. While I definitely find some material offensive from a moral and ethical standpoint, one has to respect others right to express themselves freely, no matter what hateful or mindless or perverted drivel they chose to spew.

    The thing to remember, though, is it’s a double-edged sword; people should have the right to say what they want, no matter how racist, stupid or lewd, but the rest of us also have the right to say just what we think of them and where they can take their garbage and where they can shove it. Again, it’s funny, but I’ve had a few people who, when I’ve done exactly that, have said they have the right to say it and I have no right to stop them. Thinking about it, I’m not sure now if they were trying to flaunt this fact in my face, or were trying to say criticism and opposition are the same thing as censorship.

    While racism should definitely be opposed, freedom of speech must also be upheld. By doing so, we also give ourselves the ability to draw out the people with such hateful ideas so we can face them out in the open, rather than wonder where they’re hiding. This may, sadly, give racists the ability to sway some people they wouldn’t have if they were censored, such is the price of freedom sometimes. It’s ironic how something that relied on crude humor could have a nugget of wisdom, but I’m reminded of an episode of the Comedy Central show “Drawn Together” that touched on racial stereotypes in old cartoons. One of the characters had a very poignant line.

    “They’re a part of our history, our heritage. Sure, they’re not a part we’re particularly proud of…but to ignore them, that’s dangerous.”

  12. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    @Fang:
    Oh, Lovecraft was quite relaxed about Chinese & Japanese people (theres that quote in his letters were he uses the example of a Japanese child being given de-Japanizing cosmetic surgery & brought up by Euro-Californians-he thought it would be exactly like its adopting parents. Apart from its horrific origin story, one supposes, but still, thats quite categorial).
    Deeveloutionized sorts, especially albinos, who made white supremacists quite nervous back when they still had pretensions towards science, is another matter entirely.
    It is worth noting that Lovecraft compared his own hatred towards his fictional negroids to that perpertrated by white trash.

    Quite liked that Drawn Together episode too.
    However, a central issue in this matter is warning and context, so that vulnerable groups will not feel persecuted, and the ignorant not be led astray.

  13. ulysess

    Lovecraft was a word nerd. If he was using a word it was in the exact, correct, Webster Dictionary definition, an if popular culture of his day was using the word in a different way he did not care. The easiest example is degenerate. Go look up the actual definition an then reread the hundreds of times he used it; an see how the context never actually had anything to do with sex. Unless of course he was referring to people in the 12th century engaging in Roman rituals.

    In 1916 HPL wrote to his pal Rheinheart Kleiner, regarding his attendance at Hope Street High School, “It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant with their classes–calculatingly and schemingly brilliant–but their ideals were sordid and their manners coarse.

    Lovecraft in his stuck up, proper, Protestant, word nerd, New England way just called the Jews he went to school with blue collar future businessmen. Admittedly to him that is a horrific insult. After all no proper gentleman would ever be so low brow as to discuss ways of making money in public. An such a person is definitely not someone he would want to spend time with. As a New Englander whose family landed in 1638 I can tell you from experience racial an ethnic slurs are bantered with careless abandon by people who, may not, actually believe what they just said, especially when jerk, idiot, schemer or alcoholic would of actually fit the context more appropriately.

    An if you disagree get a Websters Dictionary an look up each word in the context of the sentence used.

    An I would like to point out that in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” the main character, the one patterned after Lovecraft himself, loved to spend time in the home of, an talk with the black family who owned a maid service but hated there landlord.

    In “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” Mwanu was described as “possessed not only a highly retentive memory, but a singular degree of intelligence and interest in old legends.

    In “Terror At Red Hook” the demonic prayer is actually a demon summoning spell that was very popular during the reign of Alexander the Great. An every ethnic group that is described as being a part of the cult or even just kowtowed into submission was a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire. (That one took a at least an hour to research ethnic group by ethnic group.)

    The membership of the Cult of Cthullu is described as being made up almost entirely of people of mixed heritage who since they were not excepted by either society had been cast out as exiles.

    In “Lurking Fear” the local white trash population that was being preyed apron was described as subhuman.

    In “Cool Air” Dr. Munoz was a Spaniard.

    An on a historical note anyone who supported the Klu Klux Klan after 1926 deserves to be dragged out into the street an shot. Supporting it in 1924 meant you were an idiot who was against alcohol, immorality, Catholics an there conspiracy to make the U.S. subservient to the Pope, the Jewish cabal attempt to take over the world economy and interracial breeding. So did he continue to support the Klan after 1926?

  14. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    @ulysess:
    No, Lovecraft racially insulted them: to their faces, even (at least he was honest about it). He did change his mind somewhat later on, though, as discussed above: or so I think.
    There is little reason to quote his fiction on the subject, considering how clearly he explained his position in his letters-indeed, this could be said of most of his interests (for example, his stories might lead one to assume he was Roman Catholic, or horribly hen-pecked).
    The Alexandrian connection is interesting: though one suspects Mr. Machens (&, well, Lovecrafts) classicism & -well, Mr. Joshi thinks the Yezidi derive from Mr. Prices “The Stranger from Kurdistan”, but Chambers “The Slayer of Souls” was published 5 years before, & may also be the source of the Tco-tchos-are more to the point. But perhaps the Argeadide empire was used as a warning against multiracialism? Strange that Lovecraft did not mention anything about it though.

    Dr. Muñoz has a “Moorish” nose, even. Lovecraft seems to have been informed enough to disregard the Black legend, at least.

    But he supported the US south & its segregrational policies all his life, also after he grew disenchanted with national socialist germany.

  15. ulysess

    I have never thought about how the way the Macedonian leaders absorbed so much of the local customs of the people they concurred an the way that one who was so neurotically obsessively fixated on his own English ancestry would view that as some thing to avoid. That is making me rethink my conclusions about “Red Hook.”

    I assumed that he was using the demon worshiping/ demon descended Tco-Tchos as a reference to the story he liked as he often did. The Yazidi however are an actual Kurdish ethnic group he might have met in Red Hook. The high level of secrecy in there religious practices an the way they direct all prayer to Shytan leads to a lot of confusion. Slightly understandable when you think about even today when Americans hear “America is the great Shytan” we think they are saying “America is the great Satan. ” Further compounded by the fact that they are the only Islamic sect that sees Shytan as an angel instead of a childish distracting trickster.

    I totally thought he was hen-pecked by his aunts, it just seems so clear in his writing. He absolutely fooled me. An I am sad to hear that even after the Klu Klux Klan went from the Tea Party of its day to completely disgraced as a political movement he continued to support it. That means his prejudice was not governed by his extreme intellectual elitism where education, intellect and culture were the primary determination of your value as a human being, as it comes across in his stories.

  16. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    I am afraid “customs” had very little to do with it: recall one letter wherin lovecraft, discussing geneaology, expressed complete unconcern about which ancestors of his he might uncover, as long as they were not “negroids”.

    I always assumed the Yezidi name for their reformed demiurge was Tawûsê Melek? (Malik Ta`us was HPLs nickname for Mr. E. Hoffman Price, by the way).

    As his fiction makes absolutely no mention of them, they where, obviously, of massive importance!

  17. Hank Harwell

    Larry, a couple of points: re: your line I guess the film-makers and the German public of that day missed the parts where the so-called “good guys” willingly go into hock financing their own stupid lusts and plans; the fact that all those superior white people can’t seem to figure out how to save their cash or even lend it on their own.

    Historically, in Europe, Christians were forbidden by the Church to engage in lending practices, which was termed usury. This, plus a restriction on Jews owning land drove them into the only business available to them – banking. While it wasn’t encouraged, Christians were not forbidden to borrow money from the Jews, and Jews were not forbidden to lend money at interest to the Gentiles. This is not a justification of the film, but I believe it was this arrangement and the jealousies of European Gentiles to the growing wealth of the Jewish lenders (at their expense) that fueled much of the anti-Semitic sentiment.

    Point two, and one that I wondered if I should make, but the film in question is available at the Internet Archive, although in a format that features very poor quality image and sound, and the English subtitles are often incorrect or misleading, but a reviewer at the site says that there is enough there to give a viewer an idea of what the film is about. I won’t link to the film directly, but it is there.

  18. lovecraf

    Thanks for the clarification, Hank, but even given that situation, there is no good reason to borrow more than you can repay, as many people today are finding out. In the film, the nobility get so far into debt that they are drowning and THAT’S why they blame the Jews, as if the Jews forced it on them. It’s like blaming a rape on the victim.

  19. Hank Harwell

    Agreed. Just trying to provide a little context.

  20. lovecraf

    And I appreciate it. Always something to learn.

  21. ulysess

    Tawûsê Melek, Malak Ta’us, Malak Tawus, Malik Taws and Shaytan are all names for the same being with different ones having different meaning an importance. The only example I know being that it is a sin to say Shaytan out loud because that is the forbidden name of “God’s emanation on Earth”. To be honest I am hitting the limit about what I know about these secretive people. I assume, with no facts to back it up, it follows the same logic as Yahweh, Jehovah and Allah.
    The central idea being Shaytan being the only name that other people had ever heard before an the fact it sounds like Satan leading to confusion.
    I have heard that the part in Pinocchio were the boys are transformed into Jackasses comes directly from a Shaytan myth.

  22. Grumpy Old Medivalist

    “Sacred Texts”, those wicked wiccans, have some yezid, well, sacred Texts:
    http://www.sacred-texts.com/asia/sby/index.htm
    One is fortunate enough to own a paper copy of the above; they are not that expensive.
    also, one would say that, at this point, the Yezidies condition as only a borderline Religion of the Book is more of a challenge than their secrecy.
    Would think it more likely that they attached the Shaytan title to The Peacock Sultan than the other way around? As you yourself have pointed out, logic is something of an issue in metaphysics.

    Suppose there is the Terrible Fate of the Latter `Adites: but isnt Apuleius a more likely inspiration? Would very much like to know your source, please?

  23. UncaJohn

    Get ready for a reality clash!

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/02/110223-walking-cactus-worm-new-species-fossils-animals/

    Hmmmmpppfft?