March 31, 2018

“The City Without Jews” @ Hyperallergic

In the black and white footage of a silent film, Austrian Jews are harassed in the public market, physically menaced by thugs in the street, and forced en masse from the country, on foot or by train. Orthodox men, distinguished by their prayer shawls, payot, and traditional dress, carry Torah scrolls. The expulsion of Jews rips mixed-faith families in two.

Familiar though this story may seem, these scenes are not taken from history. They come from a long-lost film that predates the Nazi period by a decade, Die Stadt Ohne Juden (The City Without Jews). Released in 1924, it was adapted from a satirical novel by Hugo Bettauer, an Austrian Jewish writer and journalist. At a time when Hitler was still a marginal figure, Bettauer was a vocal proponent of liberal views, including tolerance of homosexuals, education for women, and reduced punishments for those who received abortions — and, of course, the condemnation of anti-Semitism. The film portrayed the targeting of Austria’s Jews as a dystopian future.

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