Anti-Semitism documentary “Jud Süss” on Arte

Explosive material is stored right behind the main train station in Wiesbaden. Old films are kept in the Murnau Foundation: the masterpieces from the Weimar Republic and then the others, for which the nice term of “reservation films” was found. These are the Nazi films that, because of their skilful design and repulsive anti-Semitic content, cannot be shown or broadcast without further ado. The documentary “Jud Süss 2.0” by Felix Moeller, which can be seen tonight on Arte, deals with the power of these images and their descendants.

Moeller, who has already made a name for himself with films about the so-called “sympathizers” of the German autumn and about Ingmar Bergman, embarks on a journey of discovery whose goal eludes like a mirage.

To illustrate the film’s perfidious effect, one would have to show it, but that’s too dangerous

The starting point is complicated: in order to illustrate the perfidious effect of Veit Harlan’s “Jud Süss” from 1940, one would have to see and discuss it, but that is too dangerous in today’s context of an increase in anti-Semitic statements. So here we work with excerpts, for which correspondences are shown in today’s clips and speeches. This works well if you stick to visual stereotypes, to caricatures, grimaces and the misused Star of David: We find them with the Nazis and again and again on the Internet today.

But the topic unfolds a much greater dynamic. For good reason, the film does not want to limit itself to showing the continuity of the defamatory representation of Jews, but sets out to show the contemporary references of anti-Semitic patterns. And then it gets complicated. The motif of foreign infiltration by masses of foreign Jews can be found in the Nazi films – here the film builds a bridge to the theory of the “great population exchange”, which is also known in Germany as the threatening “repopulation”. But that topic would be worth a whole movie in itself. Unfortunately, one would have to say that this crazy theory has long since been seriously discussed, for example in the French presidential election campaign. There it is not only the courted right-wing extremists who are spreading the word, but also politicians from the so-called conservative camp, with the indulgent nods of respected intellectuals. But this is only touched upon here. The mastermind of this madness, the former gay activist Renaud Camus, who now lives in an old castle in the southwestern French department of Gers, is not even mentioned.

France is one of the home countries of modern anti-Semitism

Unfortunately, this also applies to the tradition of anti-Semitic patterns and images in France in general: an unfortunate foreshortening can give an inattentive viewer the impression that anti-Semitic propaganda first came to France with the Nazis. But, as is well known, France is one of the home countries of modern anti-Semitism. The import of anti-Semitic Nazi films met with a grateful audience.

The analysis of the anti-Semitic patterns in the scene of the corona deniers remains similarly fleeting. Experts like Julia Ebner are good at explaining where and how the old myths of the world conspiracy are reappearing today, but new questions are always being asked. Today, in these right-wing circles, a perfidious appropriation of the suffering of the Jews during the Nazi era can be observed: they suddenly present themselves as being persecuted with the yellow star because they are opposed to a pandemic staged by global dark men. The subject’s references to Orbán-style populism, to the right-wing demonstrators in Charlottesville chanting anti-Jewish slogans, to the myths surrounding George Soros and Bill Gates go beyond the scope of such a film. The topic is too complex, too dynamic.

It would be interesting to know which states and donors stage and promote anti-Jewish propaganda

Anti-Semitic and fragments from the net are shown again and again, but the presence of such material in the digital forums is not new. It would be interesting to find out which states and which donors stage and promote such anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda. Anti-Semitism is spreading in the digital space, but it also comes in the mail and manifests itself in attacks and assassinations. One would have liked to have heard excerpts from a diary from the Nazi era or someone who left the right-wing scene about the paths of radicalization and the role of images in this process.

The title raises questions: the propaganda film from 1940 was produced entirely for a practiced, numerous and mixed cinema audience, so it was comparable to major Hollywood productions or ambitious Netflix series. In the 1940s, anti-Semitism was not a bashful fringe phenomenon, but part of good form – the pillars of society thought and spoke that way. It’s different today. Anti-Semitism rages in special forums and channels, but otherwise has to be camouflaged to some extent, because the majority dislikes it. So he looks for topics such as the fear of migration or now the politics of the fight against corona in order to appropriate them for propaganda purposes.

The film rightly allows characters like Björn Höcke to have their say, who are trying to come up with such a strategy. But what if the attempt at parliamentary influence fails? Propaganda is not an end in itself, and today’s anti-Semites are far from having a coherent political strategy. One has to fear a development that only appears marginally in the film: the emergence of right-wing terrorist networks, which seek to compensate for what they see as the disappointing results of the political and propaganda attempts through violence.

Jud Süss 2.0 – from NS to online anti-Semitism, Arte, 10:40 p.m

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