Race to save anti-Nazi film

New reel could soon be lost once again as it shows se­ri­ous signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Vi­enna The City With­out Jews

One of Austria’s most im­por­tant anti-Nazi films was thought lost for decades, un­til it was un­cov­ered by chance last year.

Now ex­perts must race to keep from los­ing The City With­out Jews again — this time from de­cay.

Shot and screened in Vi­enna in 1924, the silent film proved dis­turbingly prophetic in its dark de­pic­tion of anti-Semitism clutch­ing the Aus­trian cap­i­tal in the wake of World War I.

Based on the epony­mous best-seller by Aus­trian writer Hugo Bet­tauer, it tells the story of an anti-Semitic mayor who, re­act­ing to ris­ing so­cial dis­con­tent, opts to ex­pel all Jews.

The de­ci­sion leads the city to the brink of ruin as its econ­omy de­clines and un­em­ploy­ment ex­plodes. In the end, the law is re­pealed and the ban­ished Jews are wel­comed back.

The black-and-white movie broke ground as the world’s first cin­e­mato­graphic work to fore­shadow the hor­rors of the Third Re­ich, ac­cord­ing to the Film Archive Austria.

It would also cost Bet­tauer his life: The lib­eral au­thor and jour­nal­ist was killed by a Nazi a few months after the movie’s pre­miere.

“The City With­out Jews is much more than a film: it is an anti-Nazi man­i­festo”, said Niko­laus Wostry, head of the FAA.

The Vi­enna-based archive only possessed a frag­mented ver­sion of the orig­i­nal un­til a French art col­lec­tor stum­bled across a near-com­plete reel at a flea mar­ket in Paris in 2015.

Hith­erto un­known scenes pro­vided a much sharper ar­tic­u­la­tion of the ris­ing an­tiSemitism in Vi­enna, which had been a prom­i­nent center of Jewish cul­ture at that time.

“This ver­sion is the miss­ing link. We have many won­der­ful new takes giv­ing an in­sight into the Jewish com­mu­nity in Vi­enna, but there are also scenes show­ing the pogroms,” Wostry said.

The copy also con­tained the fi­nal scene, re­veal­ing a slightly al­tered end­ing — al­beit still a happy one — to that in the book.

How­ever, the FAA fears that the new reel could soon be lost once again as it shows se­ri­ous signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

The in­sti­tute has launched a crowd­fund­ing ap­peal un­til Dec 10 to raise money for the restora­tion of the highly flammable ni­trate film.

We have many won­der­ful new takes giv­ing an in­sight into the Jewish com­mu­nity in Vi­enna, but there are also scenes show­ing the pogroms.” Niko­laus Wostry, head of Film Archive Austria

JOE KLAMAR / AFP

Niko­laus Wostry, head of Film Archive Austria, shows an old dam­aged film last month.

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