Oppenheimer, Joseph ben Issachar Suesskind
OPPENHEIMER, JOSEPH BEN ISSACHAR SUESSKIND
OPPENHEIMER, JOSEPH BEN ISSACHAR SUESSKIND (also known as Joseph Suess or "Jud [Jew ] Suess "; 1698 or 1699–1738), Court Jew and confidential financial adviser to the duke of *Wuerttemberg. His father was a prominent merchant in Heidelberg and collector of taxes from the Jews of the Palatinate. In his youth, Oppenheimer was sent to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Prague, and Vienna, where he became familiar with business methods within the circle of his wealthy relatives, the family of Samuel *Oppenheimer. He later engaged in commerce in Mannheim and Frankfurt. In 1732 he became the court factor of the Prince of Wuerttemberg, Charles Alexander, and a year later he was also appointed court factor to the ruler of Hesse-Darmstadt, the elector of Cologne, as well as tax collector of the elector of the Palatinate. When Charles Alexander, who in 1733 became duke of Wuerttemberg, decided to introduce an absolute and mercantile form of government within the territory under his control, Oppenheimer was appointed state counselor and was made responsible for the direction of financial affairs. In order to free the duke from his dependence on the allocations of the states, he endeavored to establish new economic foundations for the state income. He leased enterprises and properties to Christians and Jews, at the same time authorizing Jews to settle in the country. Through his supervision of the division of private property in cases of marriage or inheritance and his control over the appointment of government officials, Oppenheimer sought to enrich the state treasury and concentrate governmental power in the hands of the duke. Exercising his authority in an autocratic fashion, he imitated the life of a contemporary nobleman, dwelling in luxury and splendor; accusations of licentiousness seem to have had some foundation. With the support of the duke, he even made two unsuccessful applications for noble status to the emperor. His efforts to establish an absolute rule based on a system of mercantile economy aroused the fierce opposition of the conservative elements in the country, an opposition that was fanned by the fact that the duke was a Catholic while the country was Protestant, and that the change in the system of government had been assisted by the Jesuits and the army.
On March 19, 1737, the duke died suddenly before his projects could be executed. On the same day, Oppenheimer was arrested and charged principally with having endangered the rights of the country and embezzled the incomes of the state. Although the charges were not adequately substantiated, his property was confiscated and he was condemned to death. After the German Jewish communities had vainly attempted to obtain his release against a ransom, Oppenheimer was hanged on April 2, 1738, and his remains were publicly exhibited in an iron cage. While he was in prison, Oppenheimer, who during the period of his greatness had treated his religion with scant respect, rejected the offers of the clergy to save his life if he would accept baptism, proclaiming his intention of dying as a martyr. He died reciting the Shema. In the year after his death, the German Jewish communities lit memorial candles for him.
Contemporary legal authorities considered that Oppenheimer's death was an act of murder. Historians, too, have viewed it as judicial murder, the result of the conflict between various interests during the transition period from medieval to modern forms of government, in which Oppenheimer played a significant part. Traditional hatred of the Jews also served to bring about the downfall of a man who rose to considerable power in a Christian state at a time when the very idea of civic emancipation for the Jews was far distant. Joseph Suess Oppenheimer was the subject of a story by M. *Lehmann, and a novel, Jud Suess, by L. *Feuchtwanger, both of which were translated into several languages, including English.
M. Zimmermann, Joseph Suess Oppenheimer (1874); H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 4 (1963), 109ff., 251–4; 6 (1967), 57ff.; S. Stern, Jud Suess (1929); idem, TheCourt Jew (1950), index; F. Baer, in: ks, 7 (1930/31), 390–3; D. Kahana, in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 4 (1898), 134–42, 239–46; H. Pardo, Jud Suess; Historisches und juristisches Material zum Fall Veit Harlan (1949). add. bibliography: B. Gerber, Jud Suess (1990); C. Singer, Le juif Suess et la propagande nazie (2003); A. von der Heiden, Der Jude als Medium (2005).