Die Stadt ohne Juden [The City Without Jews] (1924) + PHACE

Die Stadt ohne Juden
Director: H.K. Breslauer
Writer: Ida Jenbach, H.K. Breslauer
Based on: Hugo Bettauer‘s novel
Cast: Johannes Riemann, Anny Miletty, Gisela Werbisek, Armin Berg, Hans Moser, Eugen Neufeld, Ferdinand Mayerhofer, Mizi Griebl, Karl Tema, Hans Effenberger
Part of: Film and Music Cycle in the Konzerthaus
With music by PHACE
Seen on: 7.11.2018

Content Note: antisemitism

Austria has a new government and the new Chancellor (Eugen Neufeld) is a raging antisemite. He manages to pass a new law that will force all Jews to leave by the end of the year. The law is received with great enthusiasm, and the Jews actually do leave, although there are some people who are against it like the Jewish artist Leo (Johannes Riemann) and the girl he is in love with, Lotte (Anny Miletty), daughter of a politician who voted for the banishment. But once the Jews are gone, it doesn’t quite have the intended effect.

Of course, from today’s perspective Die Stadt ohne Juden seems both prescient and not exactly great activism anymore. In any case, it’s a chilling historical document and an interesting film.

The film poster showing a drawing of a shadowy figuring in red hovering over a city while a huge mass of people is leaving through the city gate.

A part of Die Stadt ohne Juden was lost for a long time – until somebody found the missing footage by accident on a flea market (a pretty incredible story), so what we got to see was a completed and newly restored version. But I assume that even without the missing parts, the film is an eloquent statement on the state of antisemitism 15 years before World War II, showing all the vitriol that was already part of Austrian society before Hitler rose to power and the Nazis really got to work.

And yet, as prescient as the film feels, not even it could foretell the extent to which Jewish people were persecuted and murdered. In fact, no Jew is killed here: they get asked to leave and go to Zion, and they just leave. That only 15 years before World War II the systematic killing of Jewish people seems unimaginable, goes to show that we can never rely on any kind of “civility” – things change and they change quickly.

A line of people carrying bundles walks through the snow.

Ultimately the big argument the film makes is that Jews should be accepted into society because they make everybody’s lives better, especially for Christians. This may not be the best argument to make from today’s point of view (I’d rather frame it along human’s universal right to exist and live without fear of death and persecution, whether they’re useful or not), but it does make a strong point about how much Jewish people are a part of Austrian society and culture. And that should not be overlooked.

The film was accompanied by PHACE and unfortunately their music didn’t sit well with me or rather the film. The emotional effect of the film was rather counteracted by the music that I found mostly distracting and exhausting. But even so, watching the film was powerful and important.

A young man hugs a young woman, both have worried expressions.

Summarizing: Definitely worth seeing.

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