By Amit Epstein | 25/02/2010
"Jud Suess" was for Joseph Goebbels the artistic fig leaf he needed in order to have his propaganda perceived as art at its highest level. Goebbels indeed achieved the highest levels of deception by manipulation of word and form known at his time. Some say until today, not without appreciation to his talents…We know today how cleverly he played with the sources of information and how intentionally he created clear separation between light and shadow.
He designed the core of National-Socialist ideology with such understanding of human nature that his legacy is still here. Hitler owed half of his kingdom to Gobbels, if not more; Hitler owes Goebbels his eternity. It might have lost its spotlight, but it waits and pops out once in a while.
Funny enough, we do not always know where or when to anticipate it. We would like to think it is far from us. We prefer to believe we do not know IT personally. But we do.
"Jud Suess" was banned and it is still not allowed to publicly show it, although when it was launched at the Venice Film Festival in 1940, it received the "Golden Lion" award and enthusiastic reviews; an astonishing approval. Germany's best known producers, director, actors and over 120 Jewish extras (most likely not under the same contract conditions) participated in the film.
Ferdinand Marian played the Jew Suess and that role acquired him with world fame, for a few good years. If to believe what's written in newspapers, the German director Oskar Roehler, who recently presented his new film "Jud Suess - Film Ohne Gewissen" (officially translated to "Jew Suss - Rise and Fall" but actually – and ironically - means "Jew Suss - a film without a sense of right and wrong") was interested in the personal tragedy of Marian – an actor who wished to become a star and sold his soul to the devil (played by Joseph Gobbels, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, one of Germany's most successful actor).
Interesting enough there's a moment in the film when a producer tells a joke that goes something like this: the Satan meets an actor and tells him 'I can give you world fame, fast cars, beautiful women and all the money you will need, but in return you must turn over your soul to me' the actor looks anxious and confused, then answers 'OK, I understand, but what's the catch?'…- I couldn't have found a better phrase to describe the core of this film. If, let's play naïve, for any reason Herr Marian did have a dilemma in reality, it is badly represented in the film…why, he hardly has a chance, the good fellow – he refuses, again and again, even taking a huge risk because his wife is Jewish and he is hiding a Jewish friend, an actor, at his residence…what if it will be known?! It’s the end for him… moreover Goebbels threatens him with hints as thin as Goering that a refusal might be the end of his career. That poor man, we should all feel for him, I guess.
But in reality Marian's wife wasn't Jewish, we do not know if he hid any Jew (although he most likely knew a few, from before they were prohibited from the stage) and we do not know if he had any dilemma selling his soul to this specific devil, who gave him all he wanted. On one hand, if he really had no choice – what's the dilemma? On the other hand, if he had a dilemma why don't we see any of it on screen?
All we get is a pile of lies badly disguised by a veil of clichés: the Jews in the Ghetto look at Roehler's film as if he hired the same casting director of the original film – their spiritual world is composed of songs about gefilte fish; Goebbels himself is a man who lost his mind to a night show satire; Marian paid for his "crime" – his "Jewish" wife was "gassed" (not really, she was catholic and committed suicide years after the war, but Roehler didn't find it piquant enough); the Jew friend he "hid" but was given to the authorities by the blond maid, survived Auschwitz somehow but when innocent Marian accidentally meets him after the war is over the ungrateful Jew hits him. An American soldier, almost the only one there who's not black and busy dancing to jazz music, stops the beating and wishes to arrest the Jew but oh-then takes the Jew his German passports stamped with the letter J and gets away with it. That's the reality in the eyes of Roehler – poor Germans with no choices, hiding Jews who beat them up and get away from it because they are Jewish and the Americans let them, lost their half Jewish beloved ones and world fame, which was promised to them. Promised!
Actor Bleibtreu was quoted saying (my emphasize)"It's about time we Germans were able to live with our history in a freer way, so that we can emancipate ourselves from it to some extent…This doesn't mean that we have to forget it - not at all. That's why we make these films."
No, you made this film to make a profit and get a prize – luckily the film was poorly received at the Berlinale premier; the international audience booed throughout the whole screening.One can only hope it will be a flop in the German cinemas.