This Once-Lost Silent Movie Predicted The Rise Of The Nazi Party

When it comes to unexpected historical discoveries, a "lost Nazi silent film" certainly sounds like a controversial relic. The title of one such film rediscovered in 2015, The City Without Jews, is sure to raise eyebrows even further - but contrary to the questionable title, the film is not at all what it sounds like. Rather than being a piece of propaganda, The City Without Jews was a hard-hitting satire that struck back against anti-Semitism during the 1920s, a time period in which the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) was on the rise worldwide. In fact, the film was such an apt satire that it managed to accurately and eerily predict the origins of Nazi control in Europe and the Holocaust that followed. The City Without Jews could have been the most impactful film in all of history - if only people had listened to its message before it was too late.

 

Based on a 1922 book by Hugo Bettauer, The City Without Jews was released as a film in Austria in 1924 and was a sizeable hit, despite being definitively "before its time." However, the reaction it provoked among Austria's political right wing was immediate, extreme, and also a chilling portent of the brutality that would soon engulf the entire continent.


  • 'The City Without Jews' Was Released As A Book And Film Over A Decade Before The Rise Of Nazism
    Photo: The City Without Jews/ORF / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use

    'The City Without Jews' Was Released As A Book And Film Over A Decade Before The Rise Of Nazism

    As far as satires go, The City Without Jews, or Die Stadt ohne Juden, had a fairly unsubtle title, and that's probably attributable to the era in which it was released. Although it would end up eerily predicting the rise of Nazism in Germany, the film was released a decade earlier, in 1924, in neighboring Austria. The Expressionist silent film was written, produced, and directed by Hans Karl Breslauer, but it was adapted from a book by Hugo Bettauer, which was released in 1922.

     

    Although anti-Semitism was an ever-growing worldwide issue during the '20s - especially in Austria, the birthplace of Adolf Hitler - Bettauer and Breslauer's story was still frighteningly prescient.

  • The Story Came At A Time When Nazism Seemed At Its Lowest And Hitler Was In Jail
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Story Came At A Time When Nazism Seemed At Its Lowest And Hitler Was In Jail

    Although The City Without Jews was released, historically-speaking, during the lead up to WWII and Nazism, it was also released at a particular low-point in European fascism. Anti-Jew sentiment was still rampant in 1924 Austria, but their version of the National Socialist Party had recently been banned.

    The Austrian-born Adolf Hitler, who would soon rise to ultimate power in Germany, had just been thrown in jail for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch and was busy drafting Mein Kampf. The fascist future portrayed in The City Without Jews may have seemed a long way off when it hit theaters, but it, unfortunately, wasn't.

  • In The Film, Jews Are Blamed For An Economic Crisis, Just Like In Real Life

    Since they had long been the subject of finance-based conspiracy, that the plot of The City Without Jews centered around Jews being blamed for an economic crisis wasn't exactly the film's boldest prediction. However, the fact that the plot sees local Jews run out of Austria when they're blamed for rising unemployment and rampant poverty is eerily accurate to the movement that would soon begin in neighboring Germany.

     

    The portrayal of a non-Jewish populace whipped into a frenzy in which they use Jews as scapegoats for all their woes hits all too close to historical home.

  • The Film Expertly Predicted Kristallnacht

    Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich's eradication of the Jewish people did not happen all at once, but rather at a deliberate and systematic pace. However, one of the clearest indicators of the Holocaust that was to come was Kristallnacht, a destructive event that occurred in November of 1938.

     

    The act, which targeted Jewish businesses and individuals, was initially carried out by the SA - the Sturmabteilung, or Third Reich paramilitary group nicknamed the "Brownshirts" - but soon ordinary citizens joined the hateful fray. The City Without Jews had long before featured average townspeople assailing Jewish business owners, angrily demonstrating, and attacking Jews in the street - actions that aren't all that dissimilar to the horrors of Kristallnacht.

  • The Expulsion Of Jews Portrayed In 'City Without Jews' Was Frighteningly Accurate

    That The City Without Jews features a government deciding to expel Jews from its country to benefit its non-Jewish citizens alone would have qualified it as an accurate foreshadowing of the Holocaust. The fact that it further predicted things like Jews being forced out of their homes, loaded into stock cars, and shipped to the east makes the film seem troublingly prophetic.

     

    The idea of an entire group of people - men, women, and children - being forced out of a country on account of their religion may have seemed extreme in 1924, but it would become a reality in Austria, and other places, about a decade after the film was released.

  • Two Of The Film’s Stars Went On To Have Ironic Interactions With The Party
    Photo: Willy Pragher / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Two Of The Film’s Stars Went On To Have Ironic Interactions With The Party

    Despite its subject matter, The City Without Jews was a hit in the silent film era, and it featured some prominent actors, two of whom went on to have rather ironic personal connections to Nazism. Hans Moser, who played the villainous Councillor Bernard, went on to marry a Jewish woman, and he refused to divorce her when Nazism finally took hold in Europe. Fortunately for Moser, Hitler was a big fan of his, and he was able to parlay his celebrity into safe passage out of the country for his wife.

     

    The irony of Johannes Riemann's role, on the other hand, went firmly in the opposite direction. Riemann played the film's Jewish protagonist, but he later became a real-life member of the Party. However, Riemann never gave up on acting, and he found himself performing at a variety show in Auschwitz in 1944.