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Film / The City Without Jews

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The City Without Jews (German title: Die Stadt ohne Juden) is a 1924 expressionist Austrian silent film directed by Hans Karl Breslauer. It was based on the novel of the same name by Hugo Bettauer, released two years earlier.

The movie takes place in a Fictional Country called the Republic of Utopia, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Austria in the early 1920s. Contray to its name, Utopia is not a utopia. In fact, it's in the midst of an economic crisis, with hyperinflation spiraling out of control.note  Anti-Semitic rabble-rousers insist that those dastardly Jews are obviously to blame for this, and the government decides to expel the Jews. That's bad news for Lotte Linder and her Jewish boyfriend Leo Strakosch, who will now have to be separated. The Jews are sent away to live in "Zion," apparently present-day Israel, but Leo sneaks back into Utopia, disguised as a French Catholic, so that he and Lotte can continue to be together. Meanwhile, without the Jews, Utopia's economy craters. Eventually, the government realizes its mistake, votes to let the Jews come back, and everyone lives happily ever after.


The City Without Jews wasn't really warning about the rise of Nazi Germany in particular (Nazis were politically irrelevant in 1924), but was rather about antisemitism in general, which always seems to be politically relevant. The film was a commercial success at the time, although it's often been criticized for soft-pedaling the novel's anti-racism message, and Hugo Bettauer disowned the film (probably out of this). Still, the movie was anti-racist enough to piss off the nascent Nazi movement, who frequently protested it, often violently. Bettauer himself was murdered by a young Austrian Nazi party member in 1925.

Once considered a lost film, a surviving copy was found in 1991 and a better copy was found in 2015.


This film has the examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: It turns out the whole movie was a dream of the anti-Semitic Councillor Bernart, who wakes up now having a new appreciation for the Jews.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Getting rid of the Jews doesn't work out quite the way its proponents expected.
  • Broken Aesop: Despite its ostensibly pro-Jewish message, the film contains some antisemitic stereotypes, notably when Leo uses trickery to secure the vote that will let the Jews back into the city. While the movie is obviously siding with him, his actions there don't exactly undermine the stereotype about Jews being sneaky and underhanded.
  • Decided by One Vote: At the end, the vote over whether to let the Jews come back is decided by one vote.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Chancellor is only ever referred to by that title. In the novel, he's named Dr. Karl Schwertfeger.
  • Forbidden Love: Lotte's romance with Jewish artist Leo Strakosch becomes forbidden after the Jews are expelled.
  • The Ghost: For a while, Utopia is bankrolled by Jonathan Huxtable, an anti-Semitic American millionaire who never appears onscreen. Towards the end, he gets engaged to a Jewish woman and withdraws his support.
  • Greedy Jew: Of course, this trope is cited as a reason why the Jews should be expelled. The movie doesn't exactly repudiate the stereotype. Instead, its message is more, "The Jews may be a bit greedy, but you need those greedy Jews for the good of the economy."
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: Well, sort of. Obviously, this movie predates the Nazis coming to power, although the failed Beer Hall Putsch did happen the previous year. And if this was supposed to be based on what the Nazis would do if they came to power, the filmmakers severely underestimated just how far they would go. But really, it's meant as a satire of Austria's own Christian Social Party.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Chancellor is based on Ignaz Seipel, who really was the Chancellor of Austria at the time. Jonathan Huxtable is most likely based on Henry Ford.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The Republic of Utopia is an obvious stand-in for Austria, with no effort made to disguise the obviously Viennese shooting locations. In the original novel, the setting actually is Austria.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: The Chancellor backtracks on the expulson of the Jews when it becomes clear that it made things worse.
  • The Scapegoat: Would you believe that the Jews get blamed for stuff going wrong?
  • Single Malt Vision: While drunk, Bernart sees a car as two cars.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: In a retroactively disturbing scene, the Jews are sent off in trains after being expelled from Utopia. Many part at the train station, including Lotte and Leo.


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