Joseph Süss Oppenheimer is known under the name "Jew Süss" and has entered the pages of history as the most famous and controversial financier and court factor.
He was born around 1690 in Heidelberg, the son of Süsskind Oppenheimer, Tax Collector for the Palatinate Jews, and belonged to the famous Frankfurt Oppenheimer family. He started his business career in the Palatinate, Hesse and Cologne, where he made a name for himself not only as an agent for promissory notes, master of the mint and court factor, but also as a jeweller and moneylender. In 1732 Prince Karl Alexander of Württemberg made him court factor.
When Karl Alexander became ruler of Württemberg one year later, war broke out, and he entrusted Joseph Süss Oppenheimer with the commissariat for the entire Swabian army, and appointed him MinisterResident in Frankfurt. He was allowed to maintain a residence there outside the Judengasse, and had a permanent representative in the person of Court Counsellor Leining. His mother lived in Frankfurt's Judengasse.
Oppenheimer became the prince's political adviser and started implementing radical economic reforms on his behalf. He established monopolies for the sale of salt, leather, wine and tobacco, and rapidly extended the existing ducal monopoly on manufacturing. The free trade in salt which had been guaranteed to communities for centuries was taken under state ownership. Against the bitter opposition of the wealthy classes, he sought to emulate the French model by introducing an absolute state with a mercantilist, protocapitalist economic system, which was nevertheless subject to state guidance and regulation. He had porcelain and silk factories built, founded the first bank in south Germany, and set industrialisation in motion.
After the prince's death, he was immediately arrested by his successor and and after a long trial which attracted a great deal of notice was condemned to death by a criminal court in Stuttgart. He was hanged in February 1738.
The writer Lion Feuchtwanger (1884 1958) portrayed his fate in the novel "Jud Süss". The director Veit Harlan made an inflammatory antisemitic film of the same title during the Nazi era.