Title card from the recently discovered and newly-restored Die Stadt Ohne Juden, or The City Without Jews (all images courtesy Austrian Film Archive)

In the black and white footage of a silent film, Austrian Jews are harassed in the public market, physically menaced by thugs in the street, and forced en masse from the country, on foot or by train. Orthodox men, distinguished by their prayer shawls, payot, and traditional dress, carry Torah scrolls. The expulsion of Jews rips mixed-faith families in two.

Familiar though this story may seem, these scenes are not taken from history. They come from a long-lost film that predates the Nazi period by a decade, Die Stadt Ohne Juden (The City Without Jews). Released in 1924, it was adapted from a satirical novel by Hugo Bettauer, an Austrian Jewish writer and journalist. At a time when Hitler was still a marginal figure, Bettauer was a vocal proponent of liberal views, including tolerance of homosexuals, education for women, and reduced punishments for those who received abortions — and, of course, the condemnation of anti-Semitism. The film portrayed the targeting of Austria’s Jews as a dystopian future.

A Jewish man attacked in the street by racist thugs

The City Without Jews was once considered lost forever. Around 90% of silent films have fallen into obscurity; many were scrapped for the silver and plastic in their film stock as they fell out of fashion in the age of “talkies.”

But in 2015, a collector discovered a complete copy of the film at a flea market in Paris, causing a sudden surge of interest. The Filmarchiv Austria (Austrian Film Archive) led a crowdfunding campaign to cover the restoration of the much-anticipated footage. As reported by the BBC, some 700 people contributed a total of over €86,000 ($107,000) so the film could be digitally re-released in its entirety. It will be screened at a series of international destinations, and features from March until the end of the year in an exhibition at the Filmarchiv Austria, Die Stadt Ohne, which connects the persecution of Jews to present-day persecution of Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.

YouTube video

“The newly found material includes the lost ending of the film, while other new sequences found reveal an obviously dramaturgically staged parallel narrative,” Larissa Bainschab, a press officer at the Austrian Film Archive, told Hyperallergic in an email. “Previously unknown images show Jewish life in Vienna and attacks against them. The expressionist scene featuring Hans Moser [a famous Austrian actor] in the role of a ruthless anti-Semite is now available in its entirety for the first time. All in all, the political message of the film and the depiction of murderous anti-Semitism in Vienna in the 1920s are now significantly more sharply articulated.”

In a 2015 video by the Austrian Film Archive, Managing Director Dr. Nikolaus Wostry, suggests that the film is a kind of national treasure — both a crucial jewel in the crown of Austria’s long history of film, as well as an early example of politically-engaged film.

A procession of Jews banished from Vienna carry Torah scrolls as they flee the city.

“It was, for us, really astonishing to find this second source of the film in Paris,” said Wostry, in a phone interview with Hyperallergic. “There was a certain degree of self-censorship with the film following its release, an attempt to make its social critique less sharp, but it presents a much clearer anti-Nazi sentiment.”

Wostry said that Austrian silent films were for-profit ventures, so provocative political films were extremely rare. The movie also represents a stirring counterpoint to Austria’s historical connection to Nazism and anti-Semitic propaganda. (Hitler himself was born in Austria.) “Already in the 19th century, Austria was the center of the politcal anti-Semitism, Wostry said. “Hitler got his inspiration in Vienna.”

A mixed-race child, with her Christian, mother tearfully waves goodbye to her Jewish father as he is removed from Vienna by train. (Historically speaking, many children with partial Jewish ancestry were murdered in concentration camps, or smuggled out of Nazi territory by brave and sympathetic citizens)

As the buzz around the re-release of this film builds, historians and journalists have hailed the narrative as oddly prescient — but this is perhaps a limited viewpoint, when one considers that the history of Judaism contains countless tales of expulsion, enslavement, and attempts at extermination; many long predate the high-profile mass murder of approximately 6 million Jews, and millions of people from other persecuted groups, under Nazi rule.

The City Without Jews opened in 1924 at all five of Vienna’s major movie theaters, to enormous demand. As is now clear from the complete ending, which concludes with Austria acknowledging its wrongs and inviting the Jews back home for a joyful reunion of lovers and families, the film was quite overt in its message. Ironically, what was essentially a dystopian film concluded on a happier note than the actual history. Bettauer became the target of a virulent hate campaign, and was ultimately murdered by a Nazi named Otto Rothstock.

A pleasant portrayal of ordinary Jewish life in Vienna

As worldwide practitioners of the Jewish faith prepare to touch off Passover celebrations this evening, it seems a timely moment to reflect on a history of racial intolerance and persecution that goes back as far as the Book of Exodus. Though The City Without Jews is not a documentary, it stands as an astonishing document and proxy narrative for a story that unfortunately came true — and could all too easily happen again.

Die Stadt Ohne continues at the Filmarchiv Austria (Johannesgasse 4, 1010 Vienna, Austria) until December 30.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

12 replies on “Long-Lost 1924 Film That Anticipated the Holocaust Is Rediscovered and Restored”

  1. I’m hyperallergic to certain statements such as this:

    “which connects the persecution of Jews to present-day persecution of Muslims, refugees, and immigrants.”

    WHAT “prosecution of Muslims”?

    Did I miss the part where some mysterious Muslim haters flew airplanes into gigantic mosques and killed 3000 Muslims? Oh, wait, no, that was Muslim terrorists attacking the WTC.

    Are Muslims fleeing European cities such as Malmoe because of the hatred and violence by stone-throwing Jewish mobs? Ah no, that’s Muslims who follow their antisemitic “holy” book, doing what they’ve been doing for 1400 years: prosecute non-Muslims, invading their countries and driving them out.

    Are we witnessing tens of thousands of gang rapes of Muslim girls in the UK while the police turn a blind eye for 20 years, because Muslim girls don’t matter? Hmmm, funny, that’s again wrong: it was Muslim gangs that raped, prostituted and murdered white British girls while the police were afraid to prosecute them for fear of being called racist.

    Over 32’000 deadly terrorist attacks have been committed all over the world, since 9/11. About 99% of them by Muslims against both, Muslims and non-Muslims.

    Paris, London, Nice, Stockholm, Berlin, Orlando, San Bernardino, Manchester, Bangalore, Bali, Sydney, Nairobi… you can go on a very long world tour just visiting all the locations of major Muslim terrorist attacks.

    300’000 victims of Muslim terrorism in Syria and Iraq – committed by Jihadi travelers from all over the planet who also sold tens of thousands of Jazidi girls into sexual slavery. And the Islamic regime of Sudan massacred over 500’000 non-Muslims in South Sudan.

    But there’s a prosecution of Muslims happening, just like Jews were prosecuted?

    What kind of equivalence are you invoking here?

    Did Jews commit terrorist attacks to elicit violence and hatred from Germans? Did they gang-rape and stab German girls, the way Muslims do today?

    No, the crime of Jews was to be too successful as scientists, entrepreneurs and lawyers, thus generating demands for more “German” science.

    I cannot begin to explain how incredibly offensive it is to any decent person to see you create a totally imaginary equivalence!

    People who criticize Islam do so because of the exact same reasons they criticize Nazism: because both are supremacist, intolerant ideologies that also happen to be antisemitic!

    There’s a reason Nazis and Muslims allied throughout WWII!

    The German Focus Magazine just ran an excellent article on this subject – it explains that over 600’000 Muslims were fighting alongside the Nazis on several fronts. Nazi leaders spoke very highly of Islam.

    Today, we hear shouts of “Juden raus” from parades in Germany … from Muslim demonstrators!

    But Muslims are just like Jews in the 1930s? In what twisted version of history?

    How in the world are you honoring the memory of Jewish victims, if you claim that they are “just like” those who have been prosecuting them for 1400 years?

    For the life of me, I will never understand this selective blindness…

    1. I completely agree with the comment above. What’s more, Europe is now accepting migrants from Muslim countries, who bring more antisemitism with them. Nearly every Muslim is a Jew-hater as this attitude is encouraged by the Koran and enforced by the imams.

        1. Oh really, I’m “bigoted”, not the guys who follow an antisemitic, misogynistic, homophobic cult that wants to murder all Atheists, Apostates and anyone else who doesn’t convert to or submit to that cult?

          Your logic is so twisted that I don’t know where to begin.

          I bet you would have insulted people who opposed Nazism as “bigoted”, in the 1930s.

          Exposing hatred and bigotry is not hatred and bigotry!

          Grow a brain, please.

        2. Are blacks “bigoted” for not liking the KKK?

          Are Jews “bigoted” for not liking Nazism and Islam, both antisemitic?

          Are white people “bigoted” for not liking the BLM, the black equivalent of the KKK?

      1. You are preaching hate and hiding behind claims of antisemitism; one kind of racism doesn’t justify another.

        1. This import of hatred against Jews by the recent Muslim migrants is discussed in the German Parliament, because it is becoming a serious issue. Instead of denying reality, you should face it and, if you can, try to change it.

    2. So because some Muslims are terrorists, they should all therefore be “ethnically cleansed” from Europe, even those who are born and raised citizens, via deportations, internment camps, etc.? Because that’s what some on the extreme right have suggested as a “solution,” openly or otherwise.

      1. What a truly idiotic comment.

        And when I say “idiotic”, I’m being hyper diplomatic.

        Did you even read my post at all?

        I don’t think so!

        What “ethnicity” are you referring to? Islam is an IDEOLOGY, just like Nazism and Communism!

        Did the USSR have to be “ethnically cleansed” of Communists? Or did they simply admit that Communism is a retarded, evil ideology that should not be followed?

        If there’s anyone who wants to commit genocide, it’s Green and the other parties on the left. They express joy about the idea that there may soon be a non-German majority in Germany and a non-European majority population for all of Europe.

        Which would constitute a genocide, based on the UN definition.

        Muslims have committed multiple genocides throughout history – in India alone, they murdered more than 50 million Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

        For anyone on the left who supports Muslims in gaining power in Europe, have a look at Iran, where communists helped Khomeini gain power. What did the Mullahs do then? They jailed and executed thousands of communists!

        Because Muslims do not like any other ideology than Islam – and they will make bloody war over minor differences between sub-divisions of Islam, say Sunni, Sufi, Shia, Allavite, Wahabi etc.

        FYI: my girlfriend is ex-Muslim. Her family is from Pakistan.

        Muslims have threatened her with violence for leaving Islam. If she lived under an Islamic government, she might be executed.

        As atheist, that’s a very serious threat to me, too. As it is a threat to homosexuals, Jews etc.

        Muslims are not the ones who are being prosecuted, but there are lots and lots of other people who will have to fear for their lives if we let them win the demographic warfare they started!

        I say don’t allow them to spread their message of hatred!

        Educate Muslim children so that they understand that there is no truth in Islam. That they have to respect non-Muslims, women, Jews, Atheists etc.

        Make sure they learn how to integrate.

        It’s either that – even against the resistance of Muslim parents who want to brainwash their kids with their evil ideology – or we will have CIVIL WAR within 1-2 generations. The kind they had in ex-Yugoslavia.

        1. “Educate Muslim children… that they have to respect non-Muslims, women, Jews, Atheists etc.

          Make sure they learn how to integrate.”

          I agree with all of this, actually. And I never said that Muslim extremism wasn’t a legitimate concern, it very much is – *especially* for fellow Muslims, given that they’re its most frequent victims. But the blanket demonization of Muslims as a group won’t help achieve any of these (vitally important) goals.

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