The Many Deaths of Jew Suss: The Noto­ri­ous Tri­al and Exe­cu­tion of an Eigh­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Court Jew

  • From the Publisher
December 21, 2017

Joseph Süss Oppenheimer―“Jew Süss”―is one of the most icon­ic fig­ures in the his­to­ry of anti-Semi­tism. In 1733, Oppen­heimer became the court Jew” of Carl Alexan­der, the duke of the small Ger­man state of Würt­tem­berg. When Carl Alexan­der died unex­pect­ed­ly, the Würt­tem­berg author­i­ties arrest­ed Oppen­heimer, put him on tri­al, and con­demned him to death for unspec­i­fied mis­deeds.” On Feb­ru­ary 4, 1738, Oppen­heimer was hanged in front of a large crowd just out­side Stuttgart. He is most often remem­bered today through sev­er­al works of fic­tion, chief among them a vicious Nazi pro­pa­gan­da movie made in 1940 at the behest of Joseph Goebbels.

The Many Deaths of Jew Süss is a com­pelling new account of Oppen­heimer’s noto­ri­ous tri­al. Draw­ing on a wealth of rare archival evi­dence, Yair Mintzk­er inves­ti­gates con­flict­ing ver­sions of Oppen­heimer’s life and death as told by four con­tem­po­raries: the lead­ing inquisi­tor in the crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion, the most impor­tant eye­wit­ness to Oppen­heimer’s final days, a fel­low court Jew who was per­mit­ted to vis­it Oppen­heimer on the eve of his exe­cu­tion, and one of Oppen­heimer’s ear­li­est biog­ra­phers. What emerges is a lurid tale of greed, sex, vio­lence, and disgrace―but are these nar­ra­tors to be trust­ed? Metic­u­lous­ly recon­struct­ing the social world in which they lived, and tak­ing noth­ing they say at face val­ue, Mintzk­er con­jures an unfor­get­table pic­ture of Jew Süss” in his final days that is at once mov­ing, dis­turb­ing, and profound.

The Many Deaths of Jew Süss is a mas­ter­ful­ly inno­v­a­tive work of his­to­ry, and an illu­mi­nat­ing para­ble about Jew­ish life in the fraught tran­si­tion to modernity.

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