Race to save anti-Nazi film
New reel could soon be lost once again as it shows serious signs of deterioration
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 In the end, the law is repealed and the banished Jews are welcomed back.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
Nikolaus Wostry, head of Film Archive Austria, shows an old damaged film last month.