Frederic Raphael

A Scapegoat’s Tale

Jew Süss: Life, Legend, Fiction, Film

By

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In 1737, in the modest German state of Württemberg, an ambitious young official who, as financial adviser and logistical expert, had grown rich in the service of the suddenly deceased Duke, Carl Alexander, was arrested and accused of ‘detestable abuses on gentlemen and people’. Little evidence was provided of capital crimes, but his Lutheran judges sentenced him to death. His execution (in effect by strangulation) was carried out to the general satisfaction and his corpse was left hanging in a high, red and gold striped cage. For the edification of the populace, the body remained there for six years, the gallows for fifty. How, over the next two centuries, did such a petty incident in a petty princedom come to attract the attention of historians, novelists and filmmakers? If the victim of what was clearly a judicial lynching had not been ‘the Jew’ Joseph Süss, his case would never have become emblematic of what it is now tactless, but scarcely unjust, to call ‘the German disease’, although it has been known to travel.

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