1738: Joseph Süß Oppenheimer, “Jud Süß”

On this date in 1738, the Jewish banker Joseph Suss Oppenheimer was hanged in a metal cage at Stuttgart — overthrown by rival courtiers after the death of his ducal patron.

Oppenheimer steered the finances of Duke Karl Alexander, amassing a fair fortune and a crop of enemies in the process.

Daggers had been drawn for Oppenheimer for years prior, but the Duke defended him steadfastly. A year before the execution, almost to the day, the noble had rebuked a petition against him:

Oppenheimer was a faithful servant of his prince and of the state, and was intent in every way upon the welfare of both, for which he deserved the thanks of all. Since instead he was persecuted by envy and ill-will to such an extent that attempts were even made to bring him into disfavor with the duke, the latter accorded him his especial protection and expressly forbade the continuation of such attacks.

But weeks later, the Duke died unexpectedly — and that ill-will immediately poured out upon his minister.

Oppenheimer copped under torture to all manner of crime, but he stood by his faith, refusing even at the brink of the gallows to convert in exchange for his life. His body remained gibbeted for six years; the Jewish community was expelled (although only briefly) following his hanging.

What with the body hanging in public for years on end, the “Jew Suss” worked its way into literary trope for the tenuous place of Jews in German society, some but by no means all of the anti-Semitic variety. Most infamous among his interlocutors was a 1940 Nazi propaganda film — a crude Goebbels project that many participants desperately tried to avoid — available in its entirety online:

Most recently — and far more sympathetically — a 1990’s German chamber opera by Detlev Glanert re-adapts the story.