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The City Without Jews

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Wikipedia article

'Die Stadt ohne Juden' ('The City Without Jews') is an Austrian Expressionist film made in 1924 by H. K. Breslauer, based on the book of the same title by Hugo Bettauer. The film is one of the few surviving Expressionist films from Austria, and has therefore been well researched.Thomas Ballhausen, Gnter Krenn: '(Alb)Traumhaft: Die Stadt ohne Juden.' In: Medienimpulse, Heft Nr. 57, September 2006, pp. 35 - 39 ([http://www.mediamanual.at/mediamanual/themen/pdf/sicherheit/57_Ballhausen-Krenn-Die_unheimliche_Leinwand.pdf digitised], viewed on 19 January 2008) The film was first shown on 25 July 1924 in Vienna.

In his novel, published in 1922, Hugo Bettauer succeeded in creating a relatively accurate allegorical vision of the near future, although the book was intended as entertainment and as a satirical response to the primitive anti-Semitism of the 1920s. It immediately became Bettauer's most popular work: it was translated into several languages, and sold over a quarter of a million copies. Shortly after the premiere of the film Hugo Bettauer was murdered by Otto Rothstock, a former member of the Nazi Party, who was lionized by the antisemitic Austrian masses and was released from jail shortly after his conviction for murder.


In Austria the Christian Social Party comes to power, and the new Chancellor Dr. Schwerdtfeger, a fanatical anti-Semite, sees his people as being ruled by the Jews. He therefore has a law passed by the National Assembly forcing all Jews to emigrate by the end of the year. The law is enthusiastically received by the non-Jewish population, and the Jews leave the country. But after a short time a sober reality makes itself felt. Cultural life becomes impoverished: in the theatres only plays by Ludwig Ganghofer and Ludwig Anzengruber are still performed. Many cafes are empty, or are converted into beer halls selling sausages. After an initial upturn, the economy declines, as business has greatly diminished, and has moved to other cities, such as Prague and Budapest. Inflation and unemployment run wild.

The political characters of the book (although not of the film, in order to avoid difficulties with censorship) are delineated in such a way as to be identifiable with real politicians of the period: Bundeskanzler Schwerdtfeger, for example, is based on Ignaz Seipel. Besides the political action, the film also dwells on the love relationship between Lotte (Anny Milety), a typical Viennese girl ('Wiener Mdel') and the daughter of a member of the National Assembly who voted for the banishment of the Jews, and the Jewish artist Leo Strakosch (Joseph Riemann).

Towards the end of the film the National Assembly resolves to bring the Jews back again. However, in order to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority, Lotte and Leo, who has already illegally returned to Austria with forged papers identifying him as a French painter, have to remove the anti-Semitic Parliamentary representative Bernard (played by Hans Moser), which they do by getting him drunk. The drama reaches a peak as he is committed to a psychiatric institution represented in Expressionist scenery, where in a claustrophobic and asymmetrically painted cell he sees himself threatened by Stars of David.

This sequence also represents the divergence of the film from the book, as the action of the film is revealed as a dream of the anti-Semitic Councillor Bernard. This surprising turn of events was described in the original film programme as follows:

"In this moment of the highest distress Councillor Bernard awakes from his dream, finds himself in the tavern at a very late hour and says to the baffled Volbert: 'Thank God that stupid dream is over - we are all just people and we don't want hate - we want life - we want to live together in peace.'"'"Gottlob, da der dumme Traum vorbei ist wir sind ja alle nur Menschen und wollen keinen Ha Leben wollen wir ruhig nebeneinander leben"'. Kivur, Nr. 1346, o.J., o.S.


The film was made in 1924, about two years after the publication of Bettauer's novel, which in several essential particulars differs from the film version. For one thing, the city in the film is called "Utopia", instead of "Vienna", as in the book. For another, the film produces a conciliatory happy ending, which is not only the exact opposite of the message of the book, but also represents a surprising and abrupt change of direction within the film itself, the whole of which is thus revealed as the dream of an anti-Semite who at last comes to the realisation that the Jews are a "necessary evil"'Die Filmwelt', 1924, n. 1415, pp. 67. The reason for these fundamental deviations from the original was to reduce the controversial political impact of the content.

Hans Moser had in this film his second ever cinematic role. The female lead was played, as so often in Breslauer's films, by Anny (or Anna) Milety, whom he later married (in 1925). The well-known Jewish actors Gisela Werbisek (billed as "Werbezirk") and Armin Berg appeared only in minor roles, as Kathi the cook and Isidor the commissionaire. The Expressionist backdrops and decor which characterise some scenes were the work of Julius von Borsody.

Other cast members were Eugen Neufeld (Bundeskanzler Dr. Schwerdtfeger), Karl Thema (Cllr. Linder), Ferdinand Mayerhofer (Cllr. Volbert), Mizi Griebl (Volbert's wife) and Hans Effenberger (Alois Carroni).

Performance history

The premiere took place on 25 July 1924 in Vienna, although there were still technical problems with the film. Bettauer and Breslauer, the director, fell out entirely, and Bettauer later refused to acknowledge any connection between the film and his book. The technically inferior prints of the film were often manually cut and shortened by the cinema owners themselves. Nevertheless the cinema auditoriums were often full, although not only in Austria but also in Berlin (premiere 1926) and New York (premiere 1928, where it was shown as 'The City Without Jews'), it was very clear that the success of the film was not as great as that of the book. There were sometimes disturbances at performances: National Socialists often threw stinkbombs into the cinemas; in Linz the showing of the film was bannedHeimo Halbrainer on [http://www.korso.at/korso/DStmk/bett.htm www.korso.at Informationsmagazin fr die Steiermark], July 2001 (page viewed on 19 January 2008).

A campaign of vilification against Bettauer was instigated, partly because of this film and partly because of other activities of his. In the spring of 1925 he was murdered by a NSDAP member, Otto Rothstock, who was hailed as a hero and despite being found guilty of murder, was soon set free.

In 1933 the film was shown commercially for the last time, again causing a stir, when it was screened in the Amsterdam theatre 'Carr' as a protest against Hitler's Germany. This copy of the film is presumably the same as the one discovered in 1991 in the Nederlands Filmmuseum. It was on a cellulose nitrate base and on the point of disintegration. The German Bundesarchiv in Coblenz therefore made an "emergency copy", which was then reconstructed on behalf of the Filmarchiv Austria (Austrian Film Archive) by the company HS-ART Digital Service of Graz using the "DIAMANT" software developed by Joanneum Research; faded parts were then re-coloured.

In October 2008 the film was made available on a portable medium for the first time as part of the DVD series 'Der sterreichische Film'.

Critical reaction

"In many places the film follows the original book almost word for word, which makes the Utopian ending even more obviously an expression of appeasement. At the end the surprised audience learns that the entire dramatic action only took place in a dream, and thus never really happened. The on-screen happy ending, dictated by compromise, not only negates the meaning of Bettauer's book but also the very real anti-Semitism that it reflects. Instead it documents a by no means unthinkable and in no way dreamlike reality [...] This surprising turn of the plot, deviating totally from the literary original, which simplifies the action as the content of a dream, cannot merely be regarded as a simple dramatic exigency, but as a prime example of the Austrian soul's ability to repress. This nave and perhaps crude experiment from 1924 can be taken as a forerunner of what was generally practised after World War II in the country 'ohne Eigenschaften'"an allusion to Musil's novel "Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften" - "The Man without Properties""(Thomas Ballhausen, Gnter Krenn, 2006).




* Walter Fritz und Josef Schuchnig (eds.), 1991: 'Die Stadt ohne Juden. Materialien zum Film'. sterreichisches Filmarchiv, Vienna, (Schriftenreihe des sterreichischen Filmarchivs; Folge 26).

* Guntram Geser und Armin Loacker (eds.), 2000: 'Die Stadt ohne Juden'. Filmarchiv Austria, Vienna (Reihe Edition Film und Text. 3.) ISBN 3-901932-08-9.

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