A Lost, Prophetic Austrian Film from 1924 that Parodies Anti-Semitism

June 12 2018

Released in 1924, the silent film A City without Jews, based on a book of the same title, imagines the expulsion of Jews from Vienna under a radical anti-Semitic government, and was intended to be a satire of the contemporary mood in Austria. While the movie’s existence has long been known to historians, only in 2016 was a complete reel discovered. Renee Ghert-Zand writes:

A Jewish man is beaten up on the street. Jewish husbands are separated from their non-Jewish wives and children and deported on trains. A Jewish community, led by rabbis carrying Torah scrolls, marches down a dark road as it is banished from town. . . .

Although [the original] book has characters clearly based on political figures of the day, the film is a bit looser in its characterizations. Yet, it is clear in the film that the Christian Socialists, [a real and influential anti-Semitic party] have come to power led by the fictional Chancellor Dr. Schwerdtfeger, a fanatical anti-Semite. Convinced that the Jews are ruining the republic, he has the National Assembly pass a law forcing all Jews to emigrate by the end of the year. The Jews—religious and assimilated alike—leave, taking with them whatever belongings they can carry with them.

Soon, everything starts to fall apart. Commerce slows down, the cosmopolitan cafés revert to seedy taverns, and the national currency goes into free fall. Realizing the terrible mistake that has been done, the National Assembly decides to pass a law welcoming the Jews back. . . .

The fate of [the book’s] author, Hugo Bettauer, is one reason why the book and film have not been forgotten. A Jew who converted to . . . Christianity, [Bettauer] was lethally shot by a Nazi named Otto Rothstock. He died on March 26, 1925 at age fifty-two. . . . The film’s director, [however], went on to join the Nazi party.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Austria, Austrian Jewry, Film, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Vienna

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey