Few knew it when it first screened, but "The City Without Jews" offered a glimpse of the future.
Shot in 1924 Vienna, the silent movie imagined a Jew-hating chancellor coming to power in a city named Utopia. He blames his society's woes on its Jewish population, using smears to foment widespread anti-Semitism. Some of the details of the 70-minute film were eerily prescient: Utopia's Jews are sent to exile on packed trains, more than a decade before the Nazis sent Europe's Jews to death camps in a similar fashion.
In the film's upbeat twist, once they are gone, Utopia's remaining citizens realize how important Jews were to the economy and culture and successfully demand their return. Of course, reality didn't work out that way. But now, more than 90 years later, the film is about to get a new life.
For many, the timing couldn't be more appropriate.
Film Archive Austria has this week raised almost 80,000 euros ($84,000) to help restore and re-release a recently discovered version of the film. A spokesman for the organization told the Guardian that a major donation came from an American Jewish foundation in the U.S. after Donald Trump won in November, and that domestic donations surged as a far-right candidate came close to winning Austria's presidential election this month.
The crowdfunding campaign was sparked after a new copy of the film was discovered at a Paris flea market last year. While a different copy of the film had been found in 1991, it was badly damaged and missed the film's final scene — a notable departure from the book, whereby the bulk of the film's plot is revealed to have been the dream of an anti-Semitic politician who then realizes the errors of his ways. The new film also contained far harsher scenes of anti-Semitism, suggesting that the previous copy may have been censored or edited for foreign audiences.
" 'The City Without Jews' is much more than a film: It is an anti-Nazi manifesto," Nikolaus Wostry of the FAA told the Agence France Presse news agency. "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."
At the time it was first screened, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was still in prison, and few really thought the mass murder of Europe's Jews was possible. However, the response to the film showed how Europe's anti-Semitism was a tinderbox: Its release sparked angry protests, and the popular author of the satirical novel on which it was based, a Jewish convert to Christianity named Hugo Bettauer, was shot dead by a Nazi Party supporter. Some of the film's Jewish cast had to flee abroad. The film's director, Hans Karl Breslauer, never directed another film; in 1940, he joined the Nazi Party.
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