Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Jud Süß

I watched the Nazi anti-semitic propaganda film Jud Süß on Netflix Instant Play. . . um, well . . .

I watched a history channel documentary a while back that identified this film as one of wartime Germany's better prograganda projects, an assessment with which I agree. An accurate (although opinionated) review can be found on Wikipedia, which highlights the film's surprisingly balanced portrayal of Jews and anti-semitism, although not of the central character himself.

Jud Süß is based on the true story of Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, the "finance minister" to 18th century Duke of Württemberg. The subject of various novels, plays, and movies, Joseph Oppenheimer was arrested after the death of the Duke and tried for various charges of corruption. He was convicted and hanged.

This much is not in dispute. Wikipedia is coy about the truth or reasonableness of these charges, and since I have no other information, I will merely speculate that 18th century standards of neither financial probity nor due process would pass muster by today's standards, and I say this without reference to the race of those involved in Oppenheimer's case. But I would happily revise this speculation upon presentation of evidence.

What struck me about the film specifically is how common the theme is, regardless of one's opinions of the Jews' role 18th century Europe. Here we have Oppenheimer, a member of an outgroup perceived to be economically dominant, gaining the confidence of a despotic ruler, who extends to him protection that he then uses to economically exploit the majority group. The people complain and are repressed. The ruler dies (or loses power), and the people fall in a rage upon the outgroup.

This is the tale of "middleman minorities" everywhere. It is the story of the Chinese under the protection of Suharto in Indonesia and Marcos in the Phillipines. It is the story of Lebanese merchants in French colonies and Asian Indian merchants in British colonies. It is the story of the Korean shopkeepers in South-Central Los Angeles. All these fell to bad ends when their protectors lost power, so it should not surprise us to see the same kind of thing happening to European Jews, given what we know about their economic position in medievel Europe.

We see this psychology in full display in Jud Süß. I suspect that European peasantry rarely got a fair break from their overlords regardless of race, but racial difference aggravated its mental impact.


ironrailsironweights said...

I wouldn't say that the middleman minorities have fallen to bad ends. Some of the Indian merchants in East Africa found themselves expelled, but that didn't turn out too badly for them as most of them went to Britain (they had British citizenship in most cases) and are doing fine for themselves. The Chinese are still in Indonesia and the Phillipines, the Lebanese in West Africa, and so on.


Justin said...

"on... um, well... "

hahaha, after I saw the link addy, I got a good laugh.

The big difference today is that the Jews have become the establishment elite. There is no longer any buffer between the general populace and the Jewish financial exploiters.