Oppenheimer, Joseph ben-Issachar Süsskind (Jud Süss)

(1689/90–1738)
   German financier. Joseph Oppenheimer was the best-known of the ‘court Jews’ that were employed by the rulers of central European states from the 16 to the late 18 century. Born in Heidelberg, he was a kinsman of the financier Samuel OPPENHEIMER. In 1732 he was appointed court factor to Karl Alexander, who became duke of Wuerttemberg the following year and made Oppenheimer responsible for the financial affairs of the duchy. Settled in a magnificent house in Stuttgart, Oppenheimer embarked on a far-sighted financial policy aimed at centralizing power in the hands of the duke. Karl Alexander was unpopular as the despotic Catholic ruler of a Protestant country. On his sudden death in 1737, his hated Jewish henchman was promptly arrested and accused of being implicated in a plot to restore Catholicism to Wuerttemberg. Though the charge was never substantiated, he was condemned to death and his property confiscated. The trial was a scandalous affair. Much of the interrogation consisted of salacious probings into Oppen-heimer’s relationships with women; several he had known were arrested and forced into the witness box. He was hanged in April 1738 and his body strung up in an iron cage for the edification of the public.
   A sensuous man who loved splendour and was accused of living a licentious life, Oppenheimer neglected Jewish law and scorned his co-religionists. Whatever their feelings about him, the German Jewish communities attempted to secure his release by offering a large ransom. He returned to piety during his imprisonment and died uttering a Jewish prayer. In both Christian and Jewish legend, he figured as an evil man, though his reputation was restored in later literary works, such as the novel Jud Süss by Leon FEUCHTWANGER.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.


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