Screening Transcendence
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During the 1930s, Austrian film production companies developed a process to navigate the competing demands of audiences in Nazi Germany and those found in broader Western markets. In Screening Transcendence, film historian Robert Dassanowsky explores how Austrian filmmakers during the Austrofascist period (1933–1938) developed two overlapping industries: "Aryanized" films for distribution in Germany, its largest market, and "Emigrantenfilm," which employed émigré and Jewish talent that appealed to international audiences.

Through detailed archival research in both Vienna and the United States, Dassanowsky reveals what was culturally, socially, and politically at stake in these two simultaneous and overlapping film industries. Influenced by French auteurism, admired by Italian cinephiles, and ardently remade by Hollywood, these period Austrian films demonstrate a distinctive regional style mixed with transnational influences.

Combining brilliant close readings of individual films with thoroughly informed historical and cultural observations, Dassanowsky presents the story of a nation and an industry mired in politics, power, and intrigue on the brink of Nazi occupation.


Part I: Structures
1. System of Faith and Aesthetics of Loss: Austrian Cultural Politics in the First Republic and the Christian Corporate State
2. Scopic Regimes: Notes on Newsreel and Culture Film Production, the Legacy of Baroque and Fin de Siècle Vienna, and Political Catholicism in Public Spectacle
3. Against Nazism and with Catholicism? Two Film Industries and the Jewish Filmmaker's Conundrum

Part II: Genres and Types
4. Cinema Baroque: Reconsidering the Willi Forst/Walter Reisch Viennese Film Genre and its Trans/National/ist Value
5. Projecting Transcendence: Emigrantenfilm, the Church, and the Construction of a Catholic-Political Identity in Singende Jugend and Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld
6. Gendering the Crusade: Female Types and Sexuality in Feature Film
7. Tales of the Patriarchy: Of Cavaliers, Cads, and the Common Man
8. Reasonable Fantasies: Cine-Operetta, the Sängerfilm, and Sociocritical Music Film
9. New Order Out of Chaos: The Austrian Screwball and Hybrid Comedy
10. Contemporary Conflicts: Experimentalism, Controversy, and the Question of National Film Style
11. Snow Blinded: The Alps versus Vienna in Film at the End of the Regime

Part III: Locations
12. From Rome to the Hollywood Hope: Shared Aesthetics, the 1936/37 Vienna-Hollywood Co-Production Plan, and Cine-Economic Brinkmanship with Berlin
Filmography: List of Austrian Feature Films 1933-1938



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Date de parution 01 mai 2018
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EAN13 9780253034243
Langue English
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Film Under Austrofascism and The Hollywood Hope, 1933–1938
This book is a publication of
Indiana University Press
Office of Scholarly Publishing
Herman B Wells Library 350
1320 East 10th Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405 USA
© 2018 by Robert Dassanowsky
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No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Manufactured in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Dassanowsky, Robert, author.
Title: Screening transcendence : film under Austrofascism and the Hollywood hope, 1933–1938 / Robert Dassanowsky.
Description: Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018004764 (print) | LCCN 2018013278 (ebook) | ISBN 9780253033635 (e-book) | ISBN 9780253033628 (hardback : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Motion pictures—Austria—History—20th century. | Motion picture industry—Political aspects—Austria—History—20th century. | Motion picture industry—Austria—History—20th century. | Fascism and motion pictures.
Classification: LCC PN1993.5.A83 (ebook) | LCC PN1993.5.A83 D377 2018 (print) | DDC 791.43/0943609043—dc23
LC record available at
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The principals of the cultural aims of the Action “New Life” a revival of Austrian national feeling, sound ideas on all questions of life, respect of the Christian, German, and cooperative ideas of new Austria are to be carried though in the world of the film. . . . The quality of Austrian film, by which it conquered the sympathies of the world, was also favorably influenced by the fact that Austria is a border country where the particularities of so many nations meet. The circumstances and the strong artistic powers of Austria allowed the foundation of a flourishing Austrian film production, in spite of the fact that Austria is a small country where a film cannot be amortized by the sources of this country alone.
“Austria and Its Cultural Filmwork”
Vaterländische Front—Werk “Neues Leben”
(Fatherland Front—Action “New Life”)
Souvenir Book, World’s Exposition Paris 1937
Part 1: Structures
1. System of Faith and Aesthetics of Loss: Austrian Cultural Politics in the First Republic and the Christian Corporate State
2. Scopic Regimes: Notes on Newsreel and Culture Film Production, the Legacy of Baroque and Fin de Siècle Vienna, and Political Catholicism in Public Spectacle
3. Against Nazism and with Catholicism? Two Film Industries and the Jewish Filmmaker’s Conundrum
Part 2: Genres, Narratives, Contexts
4. Cinema Baroque: Reconsidering the Willi Forst / Walter Reisch Viennese Film Genre and its Trans/National/ist Value
5. Projecting Transcendence: Emigrantenfilm, the Church, and the Construction of a Catholic-Political Identity in Singende Jugend and Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld
6. Gendering the Crusade: Female Types and Sexuality in Feature Film
7. Tales of the Patriarchy: Of Cavaliers, Cads, and the Common Man
8. Reasonable Fantasies: Cine-Operetta, Sängerfilm , and Sociocritical Music Film
9. New Order Out of Chaos: The Austrian Screwball and Hybrid Comedy
10. Contemporary Conflicts: Experimentalism, Controversy, and the Question of National Film Style
11. Snow Blinded: The Alps versus Vienna in Film at the End of the Regime

Part 3: Locations
12. From Rome to the Hollywood Hope: Shared Aesthetics, the 1936–1937 Vienna-Hollywood Coproduction Plan, and Cine-Economic Brinkmanship with Berlin
While there are many studies on the Berlin modernism that moved to Hollywood with German exile talent, and of film in the Third Reich, there have been few examinations of the unique products of Nazi Germany’s neighbor, Austria, during its post–First Republic phase. This study will attempt to fill that gap by examining the form, style, ideology and reception of cinema made in Vienna during its clerico-authoritarian period, academically known as Austrofascism, which began in 1933 and ended with the Nazi German annexation of Austria in 1938, and which attracted unprecedented international and especially Hollywood interest. That industry engaged in its own fight for survival in the five years that it was able to see itself as independent, or at least different , from its affiliates in Germany.
While mainstream Viennese production companies bowed to Germany’s racial dictates for the sake of distribution in its largest market, new Austrian companies that were not dependent on Germany for investment or distribution rejected Nazi racial guidelines and sidestepped the Austrian Nazis who assisted German infiltration by creating the independent production or the Emigrantenfilm (emigrant film). This secondary industry utilized crossover “Aryan” stars, German émigré and Austrian Jewish talent in coproductions with Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and marketed these films internationally. Ultimately, the contemporary and progressive comedies and dramas invented by this industry gave American careers to many of its Central European talents, such as Walter Reisch, Franziska Gaal, Hans Jaray, S. Z. (Szöke) Szakall, Felix Bressart, Oskar Karlweis, Felix (Joachimson) Jackson, Henry (Kosterlitz) Koster, Joe Pasternak, Hans J. Salter, Richard Oswald, Hans May, Nicholas Brodszky, Albert Bassermann, Steve (Stefan) Szekely, Robert (Wohlmuth) Wilmot, and many others.
It is clear that film noir emerged in Hollywood when German and Austrian-born film emigres from Berlin’s Weimar era cinema blended aspects of expressionism and their despair of the world with the American gangster film. 1 My text will show, however, that the genre already emerged with German exiles in Vienna as early as 1933 without the Hollywood influence, and it also posits that Vienna’s operetta-style comedy of errors and its particular cabaret tradition fostered a screwball comedy that emerged simultaneously with the early form of that genre in Hollywood. Nevertheless, it would be the Viennese Film genre, its musical iteration, and its eventual subgenres that remained the most popular of all Austrian cinema in and outside the country throughout the decade. These successes, then, helped create the international legend of modern Austria as the land of music, transcultural historical allure, and rural beauty. They also perpetuate “what distinguished pre-1914 Vienna from most other European capitals, and what gave the Viennese school its particular intellectual tang . . . that it was an imperial city rather than a national capital.” 2
The Austrian film industry of the 1930s also had its failures. While Hollywood developed aesthetics that articulated America’s conservative morality but also New Deal social renewal, Austrian and other Central European filmmakers who remained in Vienna were never completely successful in using their work to outline an ideology for Austria to remain independent of Nazi Germany. It could never summon up a successful vision of the state’s authoritarianism, political Catholicism, corporatism, and attempted class leveling through a one-party national front. The “transcendence” of the book’s title refers to the regime’s spiritual and geopolitical/cultural desires, as well as the popular desire to overcome the impoverishment that plagued Austria since 1918 in different extents. Attempts to valorize that ethos are obvious in almost all of Austrian films made in the era regardless of genre.
As a first English language study on this era in Austrian cinema, this text will clarify what was socially and politically at stake with the two simultaneous and somewhat overlapping film industries that existed in Austria between 1933 and 1938. The “Aryanized” (for German export) and the emigrant / Central European (not for German export) productions are explored on several pertinent levels (genre, form, style, character types, narrative structures, star system, reception, Church-led film criticism, etc.) to create a panorama of the complex and often contradictory Austrian (inter)national filmmaking process of the era. Perhaps one of the most important developments is in association with actor/director Willi Forst and writer/director Walter Reisch, creators of the Viennese Film genre, which became internationally synonymous with Austrian cinema in the 1930s, and which was influenced by French auteurism, admired by the cinephile Italians, and ardently copied by Hollywood. It is analyzed here as a form of “baroque cinema” for its ornate visual and aural orchestration, in the spirit of a filmic Catholic “counter-reformation” against pagan Nazism, and for its staying power beyond the Anschluss into the 1950s. Early Austrian sound films often identify with essentialist Viennese modernism (secessionism, Arthur Schnitzler and the “Jung Wien” tradition in literature, poetic realism and symbolism, Silver Age operetta, Viennese cabaret) in theory and creation. The desire, however, to connect with the lost imperial past, evoke a grandly cosmopolitan Vienna, and distance the era’s Austrian arts from the “Germanic” fascist aesthetic ironically and revealingly hampers the regime’s attempts to successfully mimic the political spectacles of its surrounding neighbors.
Alongside this film industry’s varied film product and flexible dual industry tactic used between 1933 and 1938, my text uncovers a sophisticated use of semiotics in Austrian entertainment film to persuade without directly engaging politics. This includes images and messages regarding gender roles, their adaptation of traditional genres, and their creation of new, even progressive structures, which paradoxically underscore an essentially retrograde ideology. These filmmakers explore the connotations of Vienna and the Alps, as well as the possibilities and results of social leveling from a state following but never achieving a corporate system. They also accept the curious position of Jewish film talent who supported or tolerated the Austrian regime but were principally excluded from its Catholic bias. To see what these dynamics imply, I also indicate how market forces make the messages of two opposing non-democratic ideologies (Austrofascist and National Socialist) ambiguous in the “Aryanized” mainstream Austrian cinema by the mid-1930s. The secondary industry of German émigrés and Austrian/Hungarian/Czech talent is analyzed for its internationalist filmic vocabulary and its transcultural narratives.
Essentially, this text provides a wide-angle view of Austria in its geopolitical and cultural setting during Austrofascism, complementing a close-up focus on the cinematic details that make the ideologically problematic but also cinematically influential productions of that era truly different from any other national cinema of its time. In the introduction to their superb Interwar Vienna: Culture between Tradition and Modernity anthology, Deborah Holmes and Lisa Silverman make it clear that Vienna of the 1920s and 30s should not be seen as some weak reflection of the cultural and artistic powerhouse of Weimar-era Germany: “Post-1918 Vienna may not have been able to compete with its own Habsburg past either strategically or in terms of social glamour, but it nevertheless remained a major—if ultimately doomed—center of cultural innovation.” 3 Yet Austria’s early sound cinema of the 1930s, emerging as it does from an authoritarian state and given its acceptance of racial dictates to distribute in the German market, has been largely regarded as insignificant or wholly a puppet of Nazi cinema. Even with the narrative ambiguities and market-driven concessions increasing with the destructive Austrian-German film accords in the final approach to 1938, these notions are hardly the case.
My research confirms that the study of Austrian film in general and of this era in particular must by its very nature cross into several different national cultures and their relationship with Austria, historically and contemporary. Multicultural Vienna had generated an unordinary amount of world-class filmmakers and performers into 1930s but lost many of them to other countries during the silent era, particularly to Hollywood during this period of positioning against Nazi German designs. During currency inflation of the postimperial 1920s, Austrian (or rather former Austro-Hungarian) film talent moved to the larger industry in Berlin from Vienna, Budapest, or Prague, but Jewish and antifascist artists returned after 1933 in a vain attempt to escape Nazism; some fled again, if they could, mostly to London or Hollywood. Those refuges helped continue Austria’s most popular genres, the Viennese Film and the cine-operetta in both British and American cinema, even after the disappearance of the country from the world’s maps.

What I do here requires an optic somewhat offside from traditional studies of national or transnational cinema. The very model of Austria’s transnational cinema industry between 1933 and 1938 produced by two parallel industries is a unique and problematically progressive development, and so, on the one hand, it merits study as a national cinema, for the most part as positioned against Nazism and its ideological cinematic vocabulary. Its product is also a distinctive regional transnational film development and influence, and acts as virtually global purveyors of a formalism and style associated with the modern and often with far more liberal aspects than Hollywood’s Production Code would allow. These films also offered true multicultural entertainment, which proved its international worth enough for Hollywood to consider risking the most unprecedented production outreach in its history.
Film under (rather than of ) what is considered Austrofascism, as the industry was not nationalized, develops a few hybrid genres of its own to answer to its almost unique political position. It spans “Aryanized” cast and crew productions, often using German talent, but it also presented subject matter that would be general enough for audiences in Nazi Germany, while also developing its own style and direction (reaching to the antifascist and Freudian narratives of Werner Hochbaum), and different forms of the independent and Emigrantenfilm. Their experiments paradoxically vacillated between mild Catholic propaganda (as by the popular “half-Jewish” Max Neufeld or film pioneer Louise Kolm and husband Jakob Fleck) and social comedies that have their roots in the banned leftist/proletarian films of the 1920s, in polyglot humor, and in a humanist quality that would make them a close relation to Hollywood’s Capraesque cultural politics.
As the inevitable annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany drew near, the paradox of such resistant social views in Austrian film gains a new dimension, in which it becomes clear that even fascist vocabulary can be made ambiguous enough to suit both the German and the Austrian audiences and government control. The longing for the modern never abates under Austrofascism, however, and paradoxically continues the artistic concepts evolved in both the idealized imperial Vienna and the former Red Vienna. It makes Viennese modernism in the cinema and arts under Austrofascism at once reactionary and progressive, but always a statement against the active infiltration of Nazi ideology. Its study will model how film production and different political, economic, and distribution pressures need to be understood as heavily influencing aesthetics.
Articles in the following publications served as the genesis of chapters in this book: “A Reasonable Fantasy: The Musical Film under Austrofascism (1933–1938),” Colloquia Germanica 4 (2013); “Snow Blinded: The Alps contra Vienna in Entertainment Film at the Anschluss,” in Austrian Studies (UK) Austria and the Alps: Landscape, Culture and National Identity , ed. Jon Hughes Vol. 18 (2010/11); “Gendering the Crusade: Representations of Female Roles and Sexuality in Film under Austrofascism,” Sexuality, Eroticism and Gender in Austrian Literature and Culture , ed. Clemens Ruthner and Raleigh Whitinger (New York: Lang, 2011); “Screening Transcendence: Emigrantenfilm and the Construction of an Austrofascist Identity in Singende Jugend ,” Austrian History Yearbook Vol. 39 (2008).
—Robert Dassanowsky
1. See Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir,” 55.
2. “City of the Century: How a fin de siècle capital produced ideas that shaped the West,” The Economist , 24 December 2016, 28–30.
3. Holmes and Silverman, “Introduction,” Interwar Vienna , 4.
With more than ten years of research, examination, and debate behind it, this book would not have been possible without those who never gave up on encouraging the need for its writing and on its author to do so. The following deserve special thanks for their input in this project and the generous opportunities and support they have given me: Siegfried Beer, Günter Bischof, and the Board of the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies (BIAAS), for their generous foundation grant and their sincere support of my project; Thomas Ballhausen and the Filmarchiv Austria, for years of screenings and screeners of films that ought to be known again—restored, studied, and enjoyed; Katherine Arens, for the gifts of her knowledge, wisdom and friendship; the late and greatly missed Hans Wagener, my mentor since graduate studies at UCLA; the minds behind the Austrian History Yearbook , especially Pieter Judson, Gary Cohen, and David S. Luft; Todd Herzog and Hillary Hope Herzog, editors of the Journal of Austrian Studies ; and the scholars connected with the Austrian Studies publication in the UK, in particular Allyson Fiddler, Deborah Holmes, Judith Beniston, and John Hughes. Thanks are also very much due to Harald Höbusch, Theodore Fiedler, Francesco Bono, Michael Burri, Joseph Moser, Raleigh Whitinger, Clemens Ruthner, Gregor Thuswaldner, Christopher Dietz, Fernando Feliu-Moggi, Ken Marchand; the former and current deans of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs—Provost Tom Christensen and Dean Peter Braza; the chairs of the departments of Languages and Cultures and Visual and Performing Arts, Teresa Meadows and Suzanne MacAulay, respectively, for their encouragement and research/ conference travel support; and Kathryn Andrus for technical advice and expertise in the preparation of the screen captures.
I am most grateful to the Austrian Cultural Forum New York and Washington DC, as I am to the participants of the annual conferences of the Austrian Studies Association, the German Studies Association, and the German-Austrian-Swiss Division of the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference for constructive receptions given to my presentation of potential chapters. For research material and assistance, I am indebted to Helmut Karigl of the Austrian Archive of the Republic; Cosima Richter and Doris Schneider-Wagenbichler of the Austrian National Library; Sandra M. Garcia-Myers at the USC/Warner Brothers Archives and Edward “Ned” Comstock at the USC Cinematic Arts Library; the UCLA Film and Television Archive; Lisa Kenny at the British Library, London; and Rachel Bernstein at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Very special thanks go to editors Janice E. Frisch and Rachel Rosolina, along with the production staff at IUP for their guidance and meticulous support.
Lastly, and most personally, I am deeply grateful to Alexander and Ingrid Dreihann-Holenia for many years of generosity, sympathy, and solidarity, and for the sincere spaces of true friendship graced by their extraordinary family.
This book is dedicated to them.
Austrian Cultural Politics in the First Republic and the Christian Corporate State
The clerico-authoritarian and corporate system in Austria following its First Republic from 1933 to the Nazi German annexation in 1938 is generally known as Austrofascism , a relatively recent term for a system that has been the subject of contested analysis and claims, and one that still causes division among historians and political scientists. The ideology of the Social Democratic Party of the First Republic is also known as Austromarxism for its unique national variant on the Marxist doctrines, particularly its “Intellectual Worker” concept, which was often accused of serving the bourgeoisie rather than fermenting revolution. Similarly, the unique antidemocratic right wing “Front,” which imagined an Austrian mission in Central Europe that had not ended with the Empire, and which understood Catholicism and corporatism as its philosophical and economic base structures, was also homegrown. 1 Ultimately, Austria ended up with two opposing antidemocratic forces—one based on the political right wing’s desire to quell both the socialism of the First Republic and growing German nationalism, which had already been one of the subversive elements of the transcultural Habsburg state, and another that found a racist mission in National Socialism. Their successes rested on the interests of foreign fascist leaders that considered Austria its charge: Mussolini for the Ständestaat or corporate clerico-authoritarian state, and Hitler for Austrian Nazism and integration into the Greater German Reich.
The Austrian authoritarian state under its two chancellors, Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt von Schuschnigg, has attracted various terms and combinations of qualifiers and modifiers that intend to capture the elusive internal values and the external assignment of meaning encountered in the hybridization of this regime’s ideology: Ständestaat (“State of Estates” corporate state), Heimwehrfaschismus ( Heimwehr militia fascism), Halbfaschismus (half fascism), autoritäres Regime (authoritarian regime), Konkurrenzfaschismus (competition fascism), Imitationsfaschimus (imitation fascism), Regierungsdiktatur (government dictatorship), and the generalization that focuses on the regime’s reactionary desire to define an historically based Austrian sovereignty in authoritarianism within the scope of what was still considered the greater German nation, Austrofaschismus (Austrofascism). 2
Such a variety of suggestive terms, the long avoidance of popular discourse on the period due to the partisan political atmosphere of the early Second Republic, and the relatively late scholarly analysis and access to records and resources, have all contributed to a continuing ambiguity surrounding this era and its politics. Moreover, much of the initial attempts at understanding the phenomenon of this movement, its culture, and its leaders have been limited to comparisons with Italy and Germany rather than to sorting out the implications of this panoply of fascistoid terms, especially as they also varied regionally within Austria. Questions remain even as examination grows: Was Austrofascism an undemocratic attempt at saving Austria’s sovereignty, which suggested groundwork for the creation of an Austrian national identity, or did its repression of the party system and parliamentary democracy encourage the National Socialist takeover in 1938? Could a democratic Austria have managed to resist the Anschluss, or did this postimperial neoabsolutistism simply prove that Austria’s sovereignty was of little interest to Europe regardless of what form its resistance might take?
The diverse terminology also suggests selectivity of purpose, as Emmerich Talos and Wolfgang Neugebauer posit, that has not aided in the understanding of the Austrian corporate state. Examination of its actual social, cultural, and political elements and contexts have brought us closer to discerning the qualities that made this regime so unique, and yet its cinema has been dismissed in these discussions on the basis of an assumed generalized decline in the arts due to the removal of the Left, to censorship, and to the clerical basis of the regime. This symptom is also part of the general lack of Austrian interest in its own significant cinema history until the emergence of the New Austrian Film at the end of the 1990s. Furthermore, the Austrian productions of the 1930s have been largely neglected and even maligned without the films being allowed to plead their visions to contemporary analysis, at least until recent film archival attempts at reconstructing the era as part of an overall endeavor to preserve film heritage.
Nevertheless, film used for propaganda, for nation building, and to project a people’s cultural imaginary is also the window into the soul of a regime and its ideology. It is the intent laid bare in audience reassuring or stimulating tropes, and the manipulation of a visual vocabulary that often is more powerful and more subversive than the cleverest demagogy. How then did film serve—or could it serve—the purposes of Austrofascism, and what was expected from filmmakers between 1933 and 1938? The popularity and variety of Austrian films made in that era—and they were popular for different reasons—underscores the failure of the ideology of a stable “Front” regime. It underscores the difficulty that scholars have had in understanding these films as a national cinema, as Austrian rather than just cosmopolitan or transculturally Viennese (in the way that émigré based Hollywood film is also American cinema), and in rejecting the folding into German cinema purely on the basis of language and shared talent. Ultimately, in retrospect and as a representative statement on concept of national cinema, Austrian film from 1933 to 1938 is as contradictory as the Austrian authoritarian state itself and successful in a manner wholly detached from the desires or conflicts of the regime.
Let me now turn to brief narratives to help clarify what is at stake in Austrian history and its state identity during the period under question. 3 Following, I will introduce the cultural and market forces affecting the evolution of the Austrian film industry against this political landscape.
From its very conception as the poorly carved out German-language remnant of the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1919, through its First Republic (1919–1933) and the authoritarian state to 1938, Austria had two continuing crises that never abated: its economic survival, and the nature of its identity vis-à-vis the successor states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. The economic challenges were formidable. The former imperial capital of Vienna, developed for an empire of sixty million, was now leading a fragment state of seven million. Inhabitants referred to it as the Wasserkopf or hydrocephalus, the inflated capital of a state where most of its traditional resources, natural and industrial, were now in other countries largely unfriendly to the now truncated and isolated core of what represented the former Habsburg empire. The first impulse regarding economic survival of the initial republican state was to join the equally beaten but relatively intact German republic (encouraged by the first head of state, the Social Democratic state chancellor Karl Renner under the provisional president Karl Seitz). That solution was denied by the Allied authors of the Treaty of Versailles, who had taken pains to reduce the size of the former German Empire and were not willing to increase it for the sake of Austria’s survival.
Even the Austrian state’s provisional name, German-Austria, which the state deemed necessary to differentiate it from all other “Austrias” of the past and present, revealed how isolated and problematically self-conscious the state would be. Independent Hungary and the other crownlands that had become postimperial states (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) or joined re/established nations (Italy, Poland, Romania, Ukraine) hardly considered that the term Austria was descriptive of anything but Vienna and its Alpine territory westward. The Treaty of Saint Germain signed by Austria and the Allied Powers in 1919 was far more problematic in establishing the postimperial Austrian territory than the Versailles Treaty proved to be for Germany. Like so many of the resolutions of World War I, this treaty disregarded the actualities of Austro-German linguistic-cultural populations (in Bohemia and Moravia, as well as Italy) and favored the territorial demands of the breakaway crownlands, yet utilizing the same concept of a successor state as was the case with the redefinition of Germany. This ordained that legally and politically German-Austria would be treated as the single successor to the entire Empire, rather than the new state it actually was, which would have necessitated different definitions of its obligations and liabilities. The idea that Austria was now simply “what remains” (“L’Autriche, c’est ce qui reste”) as the Austrophobic French Prime Minister Clemenceau referred to it, would haunt it to its annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and beyond. It ensured that its development of a reborn political/national identity would be the most difficult and trauma-laden on the entire post World War I European continent. Indeed, from the proclamation of the Republic of Austria on November 12, 1918, through its first elections for a national assembly in February 1919; the seating of a coalition government composed of the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Social Party, the German National Parties, and the Communist Party; and the ratification of the new constitution in October 1920, an imbalance was created that would shape Austria’s interwar future. Coalition governments with small center-right interests kept the Christian Social Party in power nationally and moved the Social Democrats and the Left to control Vienna. Moreover, the very nature of the new state’s geography remained in question, with significant border regions threatening secession or annexation.
Several plebiscites intended to stabilize the new state had the opposite effect. In sorting out borders with Hungary, Austria lost the city of Sopron and gained the West Hungarian “Burgenland” province. Outright border conflicts with Slovenian occupation representing the new Yugoslav kingdom (defying the population of Lower Carinthia, which had favored Austria) became the trigger point for the Carinthian or Austria-Slovenian War of 1919–1920. Perhaps most complicated were the Tyrolean Plebiscite of 1921, in which German National Party adherents in East Tyrol aimed to join Germany, and the repercussions of the British Treaty of London (1915), which granted Trento, Trieste, and the Istrian Peninsula to Italy for its abandonment of the Central Powers. This plebiscite also included Italian-occupied South Tyrol (Bozen and Meran) and Venezia Giulia, which was not confirmed until June 1921. Additionally, the new elongated Austrian state seemed to have no geopolitical center: “The Alps and the Danube Valley divide the country into two unequal and distinct parts, and the federal capital of Vienna is far off center in the East. For the residents of Vorarlberg, Vienna and Paris are practically equidistant.” 4
Not only did this geographic instability create a camp mentality that subverted the attempts of the new Austrian state to forge an identity that was as free of successor state mentality as its former partner in the Dual Monarchy, Hungary, but it also caused a provincial division that would pit Vienna and the “Danubian” region against the Alpine/Southern regions politically up to 1938, despite the efforts of the First Republic and the Austrofascist state to realign the regional identities of these territories with the new state. Politically, this division favored the Christian Social Party in the rural Alpine West and the South (the “Black” provinces, as per the color-coding of the political ideologies of the time) and the Social Democratic enclave of the capitol and its environs (“Red Vienna” 5 ). This division also preserved an essentially two-party system that could not find a majority or even consider coalition for the sake of nation building. A third force threatened even this structure: the German Nationalists (whose representational color was blue), along with the support of rightist pan-German splinter parties—later the National Socialists or Austrian Nazis (brown)—continued to insist on union and thus ethnic/racial realization with Germany.
The inflexible party identification that divided Austria geographically did so also by class. The traditionalist, mostly practicing Catholic population that voted Black was rural provincial or urban middle class. The reform-minded mostly secular, leftist or Austromarxist population that voted Red was predominantly urban and working class. The German Nationalists in various party configurations through the First Republic were composed of no particular class or urban/rural designation—although the borderland ethnic pressure points of the geography (in the South and the East) attracted voters to German nationalist politics. These tensions managed to subvert the kind of “nationalism” the other imperial successor states in Central Europe had managed to muster, and so the very question of an Austrian Nation was something that continued to plague even the Austrofascist regime. Despite its demand for sovereignty and recognition of its difference from Germany, it nevertheless declared Austria to be part of the larger historic German nation (of the Holy Roman Empire), albeit a Christian/Catholic state and a representative of the state’s traditional religious/cultural mission in Central Europe dating back to that Empire (962–1806).
What made this dualistic political camp/class/geographical division even more problematic from the inception of the republic was the fact that anti-Marxism would place the Christian Socials on the same side as the German Nationals. The Left and Right would converge in opposing the common enemy of Bolshevism. And although Austrian Nazis would eventually court Christian Social voters, they detested the Catholic idealism of the Black provinces as well as Habsburg monarchism or any cultural concepts that would deign to establish Austria as separate from Germany, while the Social Democrats had joined the German Nationalists in desiring union with Germany early on. They were however, anti-Nazi and so rejected German union after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, as well as Habsburg restoration and political Catholicism.
Jewish populations would tend to vote with the Red urban areas, but, depending on class and location, also voted Black, even though they were not officially represented by political Catholicism but were subject to antisemitism across party lines and directly targeted by racist German Nationalists and the later National Socialists. The paradox of an “empowered marginality,” as Theodor Herzl described the Viennese Jewish status in his history of Zionism, was “exceptional” in the empire and in moving fin de siècle Vienna to become one of the greatest fonts of intellectual life and cultural modernism in Europe. Edward Timms describes this paradox succinctly:
Despite high levels of educational and professional achievement this subgroup remained outsiders in a predominantly Catholic society. This places leading Jewish figures in a position where they could ask critical questions or develop new initiatives from a detached perspective, while at the same time developing resources that gave their innovative projects a firm institutional basis 6
As his examples, Timms points to Gustav Mahler as the progressive director of the Vienna Court Opera, Sigmund Freud’s creation of psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytical Society, Karl Kraus’s significant cultural criticism and his publication Die Fackel , Arnold Schoenberg’s post-Romantic and chromatic expressionist (twelve-tone serial) music supported by the founding of the Society for Private Musical Performances, and Herzl himself “representing the leading liberal newspaper, the Neue Freie Presse . . . as he transformed Zionism from a utopian vision into a dynamic political movement.” 7 What this “empowered marginality” meant in a postimperial Vienna struggling to maintain aspects of its polyglot trans/cultural importance in a provincialized Austria holding its center through its relationship with the past was perhaps not so much a different matter than a different modality.
Not all intellectuals could build a natural association with the Austrian successor state. Like Timms, Austrian critic and author Georg Stefan Troller points to Karl Kraus, who found it personally grim to look beyond the apocalypse of Austria-Hungary. Troller contends that Austria was the greatest loser of the war and that its existential trauma never abated. He credits the significant Jewish intellectual/creative population, particularly in Vienna, and their historical experience of forced transition and adaptation for inspiring the survivalist qualities of the Republic, and “making it work,” at least on a cultural level. 8 Lisa Silverman has analyzed that theater audiences in Austria after 1919 demonstrated a strong desire to experience the redemptive, “in order to construct new ways of reconciling their places within the new Austria, whether the means of that construction was Zionist-socialist-Yiddish or Austrian-Catholic-baroque.” Most crucially, the difference between the “Jewish Austrians or Austrians engaged with Jewishness” was a coding that meant the difference between being a nominal “insider” or “outsider” vis-à-vis the Catholic and antisemitic socioculture in the new interwar Austrian nation.
Habsburg Vienna at the onset of the twentieth century alone was associated with names that continued to echo the cultural, scientific, artistic, and philosophic prominence of the city but also the transcultural and dual Catholic/Jewish quality of the empire as a whole. With the Social Democrats holding unyielding power in the postimperial capital, they attempted to create a new Austrian national reputation, through a transformation of Vienna from grand imperial remnant to a center of major reforms and modernization that generated international acclaim and influence. It was a progressive move, but the imagined break with the past through Socialism was a chimera. There was no true tabula rasa even with the Left in power, as much of the “new” in Red Vienna was a continuation of ideas and sociocultural concepts conceived and debated in fin de siècle Vienna.
The utilization of that past is, however, what made the difference in how Austria moved forward after the First World War. Rather than mourn the loss or enshrine it wholly in an idolatry of nostalgia, the city would grow in mobilizing and serving the working classes that had supported the imperial city but were, as in the rest of Europe, hardly part of its representation. The Christian Social Party advocated renewal of Catholicism as the guiding force of the identity and role seeking Austrian state, and clearly saw itself as a continuation of conservative values from and as the representation of an idealized empire and imperial Vienna. This included socially and politically empowering the rural sector that made up most of the new state, and the secondary urban centers beyond Vienna. For the Christian Social Party, these populations stood as disenfranchised as the leftist urban workers. While Linz, Graz, Klagenfurt, Salzburg, and Innsbruck were significant provincial centers, much of Austria’s sociocultural identity was radiated from Vienna and the now lost major urban centers east and southeastward. Both parties managed tacit agreement by essentially defining the new republic as “what it was not,” with regard to its lost imperial state and vis-à-vis Germany but also in strict partisan opposition. This increased the camp mentality, rather than solidifying the concept of a new state that could incorporate progressive and conservative philosophies.
Unlike Weimar Germany, which stabilized economically following the Dawes Plan in 1924, the impoverishment in Austria that so underpinned immobile partisanship never truly subsided, and it was punctuated by the hyperinflation it shared with Weimar Germany and Hungary in the early 1920s, by Vienna’s stock market collapse in 1927, the difficulty in locating loans and investment to strengthen Austria’s economy through the late 1920s, and the overt and covert attempts by Nazi Germany and Austrian National Socialists to destabilize the Austrian economy and political structures to ferment a putsch in the 1930s. The Christian Social Party Chairman (1921–1930) and prelate, Ignaz Seipel, who served as Austrian Chancellor from 1922 to 1924 and again from 1926 to 1929, became an internationally known figure for his wide endeavors to create a stabilized Austrian economy. He signed the League of Nations’ Protocol for the Reconstruction of Austria in 1922, which officially rejected German union and resulted in an international bond and a loan from the Entente to battle the hyperinflation. He reestablished an independent national Austrian bank to aid in this goal.
Success did not come. An assassination attempt by a disgruntled worker in 1924 represented the dissatisfaction of the Socialist camp with the cleric’s fiscal designs, his courting of industrialists, and his reorganization of the Heimwehr (Home Defense), the Austrian national paramilitary militia, as a response to and curbing of the Socialist Schutzbund (Protection Federation) militia. The Heimwehr had been created as a union of several paramilitary units aiming to protect Austria’s borders following the war in 1919, but soon developed specific political association. Similar to the phenomenon in Weimar Germany, the clashing of the militias of the Right and the Left contributed to destabilization of the parliamentary democracy and would become increasingly important in the events that lead to the suspension of parliament by the Christian Social Minister for Forests and Agriculture, Engelbert Dollfuss.
While Seipel represented a Catholic Austria to the world for “national” purposes, Vienna’s Socialists displayed progressive plans to battle the poverty, malnourishment, and illness caused by severe overcrowding and homelessness in the proletarian districts stemming from the population boom in the late nineteenth century, the immigration of German-speakers from other parts of the onetime Empire, and the city’s near starvation at the end of the war. The party instituted workers housing and general health programs in the city, erecting in just a period of ten years (1923–1933) “over 350 apartment complexes, twenty six of which were ‘superblocks’ with over 800 units, were erected in the course of communal building projects ( Gemeindebauten ), and 63,000 new apartments provided homes for almost a quarter of a million people.” 9
These fortresses of the people were financed by special taxes and designed by city planners and architects that intended to create a new face for working class Vienna that counterbalanced the pomp and grandeur of imperial era Ringstrasse with its own imposing modernist facades, spacious courtyards, integrated parks, and children’s playgrounds. Among the largest apartment communities in Europe, these structures featured compact but airy living spaces that featured terraces, separation of living and cooking areas, and modern conveniences including gas heating, running water, electrical appliances, private bathrooms, and toilets. The larger versions of these Gemeindebauten were literally small towns that provided social service offices and as well as laundries, hair salons, public baths, libraries, kindergartens, on-site medical and dental clinics, and assorted shops and communal occasion spaces. Two of the most famous of these were the Friedrich-Engels-Hof (Friedrich Engels Court)—the elegant, unadorned Loosian style apartment complex of 177 units many with individual terraces and external walkways, erected between 1925 and 1926 by architects Franz Kaym, Alfons Hetmanek und Hugo Gorge—and the Karl-Marx-Hof (Karl Marx Court)—the art deco punctuated fortress by Karl Ehn built between 1927 and 1930. They have become representative of the aesthetic of functional modernity that developed in Vienna as the German Bauhaus school took up similar concepts. The Karl Marx-Hof is one of the longest residential buildings (1,382 units, offices, shops, clinics and cafes) on the continent and continues to be a major emblem of the Red Vienna period to the present. 10 As emblems, however, the structures represented disdained collectivization to the Christian Social Party, which led it to theorize its own version of new housing: small but individual family homes in planned Siedlungen or garden communities, which would negate the concept of working class identity that the Gemeindebauten accentuated. Although few of these were actually built, even during the Austrofascist period, the plans were mirrored by the American “New Deal” communities, which also attempted to avoid proletarian identification through “middle class” housing designed for the workers on Tennessee Valley Authority dam construction, in the coal industry, and later the defense industry.
To supplement such new possibilities for living in Vienna, the Social Democrats also instituted school reform, day care, recreational facilities, health services, and other infrastructures, which the party believed would bring with it a unique anticapitalist revolutionary society of Marxism, technocracy, and democratic principles first considered by Social Democratic thinker (and pan-German unionist) Otto Bauer. His democratic socialism, known as Austromarxism, intended to break down the class system that had been so defining in the empire and imperial Vienna. Other Marxist parties in Europe and the Soviet Union were, however, skeptical about the Austrian hybridization and considered it to be working in support of the bourgeoisie. Its municipal organizations were by definition anti-Catholic and the division between Red and Black would conflict rather bind and represent the city as a whole. It is little wonder, that the housing complexes became the strongholds of the Socialist Schutzbund , and these became the targets for the government and Hemwehr forces during partisan skirmishes of 1927 and leading up to the bloodshed of the February 1934 Civil War.
From the start, the Social Democrats had mobilized the intellectual and creative power of Vienna for its goals: Alfred Adler set up counseling centers in the proletarian districts; Robert Musil advised on army reform; Adolf Loos, Karl Kraus, and Arnold Schoenberg drafted guidelines for an “arts office,” which ultimately became the Social Democratic Kunststelle (Administration of the Arts) directed by David Josef Bach, and which launched influential music festivals in Vienna. These included presentations by Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and the Worker’s Symphony Concerts and Choir 11 that intended to recapture the one major aspect of the city’s international importance not lost in the war or challenged in political debate—its musical prowess.
That promise was not only the goal of Red Vienna but was also behind a move by the Christian Social Party to create an internationally attractive secondary national pole for music and theater beyond the capital that would also shift the geographic identity of the new state westward, to Salzburg, with a permanent Festspiele (festival) that was rooted in the prewar Mozarteum festivals. Plans for a Festspielhaus (festival theater) was created as early as 1917, and by the end of the war, theater director Max Reinhardt, author/dramatist/librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, German composer Richard Strauss, conductor Franz Schalk, and designer Alfred Roller founded the Salzburger Festspiele . The festival’s inauguration in 1920 with Hofmannsthal’s drama Jedermann (Everyman) performed on the steps of the baroque Salzburg cathedral would become an annual tradition, and the full concert series would be broadcast by Austria’s new RAVAG radio network, a Black institution for the most part. The festival’s first concert hall was completed in 1925, attracting the great conductors and opera performers of the time. The linkage of ritual dramatic performance with the Salzburg Cathedral sent a clear message regarding the traditionalism and elitism of high art of the Black provinces (rather than Vienna, even in the corporate state) as “an attempt to construct a new Austrian national culture from ‘true Austrian’ baroque and Catholic sources.” 12 Although the Salzburg Festival was also a prime example of talents from Jewish background or extraction (Reinhardt and Hofmannsthal) “attempting to distance themselves from that aspect of their identities, to find a universalizing, totalizing experience through theater, and to create a measure of inclusivity in this new Austrian cultural identity,” 13 the festival has also been compared to that of Nazi Germany’s party congresses in terms of its spectacle of national self-representation. 14
The public was aware that such cultural redefinition was critical to Austria’s survival. The Social Democratic Party advertised the 1927 elections on the front page of their daily Arbeiter-Zeitung newspaper as a preparation for the “struggle for a higher humanity” and a “battle against indolence and sclerosis.” What made this so powerful were the signatories supporting the Socialist views regarding the manifesto of the Austromarxist “intellectual worker” concept: Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Karl Bühler, Robert Musil, Anton Webern, Egon Wellesz, and other artists and political figures. 15 The Christian Social camp attacked this from two directions: accusing the Socialists of pandering to bourgeois intellectuals and rejecting these signatories as “true Austrian intellectuals.” Nevertheless, the “pro-intellectual propaganda” led to the greatest Socialist election success of the First Republic. 16
While the Christian Social Party did not mobilize intellectuals and artists in the political manner of the Social Democrats, they had managed to keep control of and even strengthen their traditional institutions: universities, state theaters, and radio, and to use them as ideological conduits to the mainstream public. 17 The Blacks also attracted their share of important figures, including Jewish talents, most of them attached to these institutions, which included Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Max Reinhardt, Anton Wildgans, Alma Mahler, Max Mell, and two important fin de siècle writers, Hermann Bahr and Richard von Schaukel. By the 1930s, authors Franz Werfel, Josef Weinheber, and Heimito von Doderer had moved to the Catholic Right. 18 The Black front subsequently established their own “arts office” to counter the one from Red Vienna, the Kunststelle für christliche Volksbildung (Arts Office for Christian Public Education). Association with one of the two camps also politicized publishing houses. Some artists, however, managed to survive and maintain their readership and even fame without advocating an association with either camp in their art or publically—the Jewish Leo Perutz and the Catholic Alexander Lernet-Holenia, who were literary colleagues and friends, were two such artists.
Such acts were not only reactions to successes on the Left. The Christian Social Party had built its postwar ideological stance around historian Richard von Kralik and his “German and Christian ideals” 19 that had been formulated before the war. He had even gained the endorsement of Vienna’s popular and populist nineteenth-century mayor, Karl Lueger, the cofounder of the Catholic Social Party, considered a highly problematic figure today given his brilliance as a city planner, his status as a significant conservative politician, and his antisemitic rhetoric. Kralik posited that Catholicism was the only true Weltanschauung not only for Austria, but also for the Western world. Celebrated by writer Hermann Bahr, Kralik called on Catholics, ethnic Germans, and political conservatives to act in unison as counter-revolutionaries against socialism, democracy, and capitalism.
On the more practical level, the Christian Social Party countered the Arbeiter-Zeitung with their own organ, the Reichspost , which by its very name demonstrated its traditionalist, even antirepublican ideals. The Leo-Gesellschaft, a society for Catholic academics founded in 1892 and originally “headed by Heinrich von Srbik, an ardent German nationalist [and] led by followers of Karl von Vogelsang, a Catholic social theorist” 20 was the intellectual heart of the party. Additionally, there was Kralik’s Gralbund , an association of romantic Catholic writers and poets. Also crucial to the party’s cultural movement was the authoritarian corporate social and economic philosophy of Othmar Spann, and the revisionist Catholic-nationalist historian Hans Eibl, who argued that the Central Powers, not the Entente and President Wilson, had liberated the Jews and Poles from the yoke of Czarism, whereas the Entente had actually left much of Central Europe in chaos, a thought-provoking defiance of the victor’s control of historical mythos. Regrettably, he also advocated the annexation of Austria to Germany as a reward to both countries. Joseph Eberle’s journals, the monarchist Das neue Reich and his later Die schönere Zukunft , which were arrogantly dismissed by Karl Kraus as blatantly unintellectual, actually had a wider popular readership than Kraus’s own Die Fackel and were “among the largest intellectual publications in interwar Europe” attracting “leading conservative writers, academics and politicians.” 21
Kralik, who demonized Jews and socialists and permanently fused the “good Catholic” with the concept of a “good German,” rejected the League of Nations as an “artificial liberal construct,” which was surpassed by the Habsburgs and their Holy Roman Empire. Habsburg nostalgia and possible restoration also became the aim of Ernst Karl Winter’s Österreichische Aktion (Austrian Action) and monarchist Hans Zessner-Spitzenberg—testimony again of the diversity of the coalitions that emerged in the era. Although the moderate Black editor of Das neue Reich , Johannes Messner, advocated a revived Habsburg monarchy, he openly called for a dictatorship to replace the First Republic if the imperial route failed. The Catholic Austrian antimaterialist Geist (intellect, spirit) that battled the socialist’s artificial and atheistic “intellectual worker” was the philosophical basis of the party, but the movement as a whole was also claimed and influenced by pan-German nationalists like Alois Hudal, Oswald Menghin, and Joseph Nadler, who advocated the end of an Austrian state. Janek Wasserman persuasively argues that, “instead of Catholic conservative and German national Lager vying with one another for bourgeois support, a relatively unified “black” bloc existed, spearheaded by radical Viennese thinkers. . . . Like the ideologues of the Italian movement, Black Viennese intellectuals endeavored to create a new conservatism that drew on Austrian traditions, German nationalism and modern critiques of parliamentary democracy and capitalism. . . . Their ideology represented a new phenomenon, one visible elsewhere in Europe, which wedded traditional values with new conceptions of nationalism, racism and militancy.” 22
This untenable collusion of Catholic conservatives (including Austrian nationalists and monarchists) with German nationalists (that would also pact with National Socialism) standing against Austrian unity and sovereignty for the sake of Black transcendence over Red would consume itself as it cleaved into forces that actively opposed one another after the rise of Hitler in Germany. But for the moment, the Black militia of the Heimwehr was protecting the status quo of Austria’s existence (if not the republic itself) from the threat of an imagined Bolshevik revolution fostered by the Reds, whose militia, the Schutzbund , equally feared a reactionary coup.
This fraught situation easily devolved into actual conflicts from its ideological ones. In January 1927, in the Burgenland provincial town of Schattendorf, a war veteran’s group with Heimwehr connections shot into a crowd of Schutzbund members, killing an invalid and a child, and injuring five others. The resulting “Schattendorf Trial” as it was known, would lastingly destabilize the republic. Held in Vienna in June of that same year, the accused three shooters pled self-defense against a mob of Schutzbund members, and were acquitted by the jury, which had ignored the evidence contradicting the claim. The Social Democratic leadership first attempted to ignore the growing fury of the party membership. With the publication of an enraged editorial in the Arbeiter-Zeitung , a spontaneous march by thousands protested the lack of justice and the “killing of workers.” The police were not able to control the crowds that moved on the Vienna Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) and set it on fire. The federal government, fearing revolution, allowed the police to use firearms to end the siege. Their shots into the crowds of unarmed protesters resulted in eighty-nine dead and over a thousand wounded—a catastrophe immortalized in the climax of Heimito von Doderer’s novel Die Dämonen (Demons) (1956).

What little cooperation between the Black and Red camps that had existed now evaporated in a demonstration of violent activity that shook the nation. The Heimwehr gained in popularity as a bulwark of tradition and Catholicism against the more imaginable threat of revolution and mob rule. Its militia was fractious without a coherent program due to the rivalry of its leaders and demonstrated the various divisions in the Black movement and the major split between Habsburg monarchist and German national wings. The Social Democrats had advocated violence to resist unconstitutional coup attempts from other parties in their Linz Program of 1926, which was understood by the opposition as a radicalization of Socialist politics and even as a call to Soviet style revolution. In response, the Blacks created the Korneuburg Oath in 1930, influenced by Othmar Spann’s corporatism, acknowledging the principles of fascism, and advocating the overthrow of the state and its democratic structure to save the Volk from decay brought on by both Marxism and capitalism. The state would be represented not by party members but by leading members of the Stände (status groups or estates)—the basic organization of the corporate state or Ständestaat (State of Estates) of postrepublican Austria. This move was understood by the Red camp as one into political radicalism by the Blacks. 23
What followed was a strike against the democratic state by the Heimwehr in 1931. Undaunted by Hitler’s failed Nazi putsch in Munich in 1923 and obviously identifying with Mussolini’s successful march on Rome the previous year, the Styrian provincial branch of the Heimwehr led by pan-German Walter Pfirmer attempted to take control of the province and march on Vienna. Without support from the population or any other Heimwehr unit however, the putsch attempt collapsed in its second day. The camps had in fact achieved their ultimate ideological balance in an Austrian state that would now find itself more threatened by the second economic disaster since the end of the war and a New Order in Germany.
The 1929 Great Depression and Hitler’s rise to the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933 undeniably transformed both camps, as the parties considered their positions with respect to his ideological innovations. The Social Democratic Party, which had long favored union with Germany, was forced to drop this goal, given Germany’s National Socialism, as did true Christian Socials. Black pan-Germans desiring annexation either moved to the German Nationalist parties, primarily the Austrian Nazi Party, or remained where they were, in an attempt to influence the Catholic conservatives. To many from all parties, the immense rise of unemployment between 1929 and 1933 suggested the collapse of capitalism and the opportunity for a Red national victory. However, a chance occurrence shrewdly utilized rather than any political planning was the act that finally ended the Republic. On March 4, 1933, all three of the parliamentary presidents resigned after a stormy session in the legislature, leaving no one to call order or adjourn the meeting. The conservative Federal Chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, a rural born and devout Roman Catholic who had previously been Minister of Agriculture and Forests, had led a coalition government as chancellor since 1932. Dollfuss took advantage of the confusion arising from the resignations and utilized an obscure emergency powers act from World War I that was still on the books as his procedural justification to claim that parliament had, in fact, suspended itself. This law also included a deferment of freedom of assembly designed to keep protests off the streets. Dollfuss followed these measures by officially banning the Leftist Schutzbund , the Austrian Nazi Party, and the Communist Party, all forces he believed existentially threatened independent and Catholic Austria.
Dollfuss’s new Bundestaat (Federal State) would function as a single party/national front corporate system based on Spann’s economic philosophies (among others), and was modeled somewhat after Mussolini’s state. 24 To that goal, a national unity organization, the Vaterländischer Front (Fatherland Front) was created, which would coordinate all aspects of society, culture, economy, and government without the threat of a multiple party system, which would, given the extremely divergent views embodied in the parties available, purportedly destroy Austrian sovereignty and its unique Austrian nature.
Dollfuss sought a re-Catholization of Austria and rejected National Socialism for its paganism and racism. He considered Austria to be the “better” Germany and hoped to reawaken the spirit of religious/cultural supranational transcendence in a new universal Holy Roman Empire that would transform and include the Germans and the non-German Central Europeans as well. This “Austrian Ideology,” one based in Catholic faith, reactionary in its models and goals, and built around what Austria had been and what it had lost, inhibited any true national front cohesion, particularly since the state had banned the Left. The result instead was a one-party system made up of various conservative, Catholic, and elitist class aspects of the society. While the regime was designated “Christian,” it was also “German [along the concept of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation] and Social.” Dollfuss’s “Austrian Ideology” and one-sided nationalism were perhaps the first seeding of the concept of an Austrian Nation, which would ultimately emerge in the failed twelfth hour attempt to forestall German invasion and Nazi annexation in 1938. The concept would return much evolved in 1945 as a democratic and mostly secular nation-building concept for the Second Republic.
The clerico-authoritarian regime was committed to the social teachings of the Rerum Novarum , the 1891 Encyclical Letter on the Condition of the Working Classes by Pope Leo XIII, and the 1931 Encyclical Quadragesimo anno by Pope Pius XI, and sought a de-proletarianization of the working class, which was supported and legitimized by the Catholic Church. However, despite the regime’s antidemocratic tendencies, the state was also “never fully fascist but remained ‘semi-fascist’ and not the least because the church constituted something of a barrier against full fascism.” 25 The corporate system, comprising estates representing different sectors of the economy, never materialized beyond decorative symbolism, institutional offices, and nomenclature.
Unlike actual mass movements in Europe that had a period of struggle and an ideology to propel it forward, Austria’s Fatherland Front and its pseudo-fascistic paraphernalia, which supposedly articulated the Austrian Ideology, was ultimately, as Tim Kirk sees it, “directionless,” particularly following Dollfuss’s assassination by Austrian Nazis in a failed putsch in 1934: “The Fatherland Front had no period of political struggle from which to retire. Its initial membership was built up by absorbing organizations rather than enlisting individuals and it never really mobilized authentic popular support for the regime.” 26 Gerald Botz finds the Austrian regime far more comparable to the authoritarian governments of Portugal, Greece, and Spain than to Italy and its militaristic dream of a new Roman Empire. He also indicates that the dissolution of the Heimwehr and its fascist leadership, along with other organizations found unsuitable to the far more bourgeois and bureaucratic authoritarian phase of Dollfuss’s successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, resulted in a “ Defaschisierung ” (defascism). 27 Ulrich Kluge instead associates the regime’s political Catholicism, Habsburg nostalgia, and baroque spectacle to conclude that the new state attempted to become a form of “modernized neoabsolutism,” one that functioned on a provisional level “with the national objective of overcoming the country’s immediate crisis.” 28
For the present discussion, we must remember that, among the significant “free spaces” 29 that remained in the social and cultural construction of that Austrian new order was in cinema. While censorship certainly increased, and distribution and exhibition were absorbed into the new state organizations replacing those from Red Vienna, the industry itself remained privatized. It was never nationalized or used as a totalized propaganda organ as in Germany and Italy. It remained open to international style (including Hollywood) and transcultural impulses beyond the rare Catholic propaganda film, the prerequisite pride in Austrian culture, and the problematic positioning against Nazi cinema and German political pressure. Austrian cinema of this era allows us unusual latitude in comprehending the tastes and desires of filmmakers and spectators of the authoritarian state, particularly in dealing with concepts of identity, gender, class, social order, and in approaches that served filmic necessity rather than strict political ideology.
During Dollfuss’s rule by emergency decree, fear-based violence finally exploded between the two camps in Austria’s brief civil war, which raged in skirmishes between the militias of the two parties from February 12 to 16, 1934. The battle began in Linz, when the police entered a Social Democratic worker’s club to search for weapons and were met with gunfire ordered by the district commander of the Schutzbund against the wishes of the party in Vienna. This action had a domino effect, and for three days fighting between the Schutzbund and the combination of the army, the police force, and the Heimwehr in Upper Styria, in the Danube Valley, and ultimately in Vienna, immediately framed the Social Democratic Party as a revolutionary cadre openly utilizing its militia against the state and its Volk .
Vienna’s Social Democratic mayor Karl Seitz was arrested, and government attacks on the large Red Vienna apartment projects, were particularly bloody. The architecture of the Karl Marx-Hof and other workers’ housing enabled fighters to barricade the projects, which would function as fortresses and where authorities feared weapons would be stockpiled. The official casualty list for the three days of battle was 137 dead Schutzbund members (although, given the civilian targets, it is assumed the number was far higher) and 128 army, police, and Heimwehr members. The total wounded amounted to nearly one thousand. The result of this needless bloodbath was the banning of the Social Democratic Party and the arrest, imprisonment, and even execution of involved Schutzbund members who had not fled the country. 30 At the same time, the Social Democrats joined the underground presence of the other banned parties and reorganized as a more revolutionary cadre. In response, the regime opened political detention camps at Wöllersdorf in Lower Austria in 1933 and at Kaisersteinbruch in Burgenland in 1934. The prisoners were typically Communist and Austrian National Socialist members. After February 1934, the Wöllersdorf camp also interned Social Democrats and Schutzbund members. 31
The adoption of a new constitution on May 1, 1934, by Dollfuss before a parliament now stripped of Leftist participation remolded embattled Austria into a Christian Corporate State with a figurehead presidency and a dictatorial chancellorship. 32 The Fatherland Front would be the organizing “non-partisan” single party of national unity, despite its obvious partisan consistency of the Heimwehr and the Christian Social Party, and Dollfuss’s goal of re-Catholization of Austria as a primary aim of his regime. The reputation of Red Vienna had been based internationally on the large modern housing estates. Dollfuss now used these to proclaim the death of socialism in Vienna by removing their original names or renaming them to underscore Catholicism or enshrine figures of the corporate state. The Karl-Marx-Hof quickly became the Heiligenstädter-Hof (named after the district Heiligenstadt, which translates as “holy city”) and which the government promoted in heroic counterrevolutionary terms as “The Fall of the Red Fortress,” 33 whereas the Friedrich-Engels-Hof was simply abbreviated to evoke a religious reference as Engels-Hof (Angel’s Court).
The assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss on July 25, 1934, in a failed putsch by Austrian Nazis, gave Dollfuss’s vision little time to consolidate itself openly. His successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, was no admirer of Mussolini or of the external aspects of control Dollfuss had found essential. The five-day battle to rout out known Nazi cells throughout Austria resulted in over two hundred deaths on both fronts. The tensions brought on by these ongoing conflicts would never abate during the existence of the regime. Social Democrats, who would have been staunch allies in this campaign against Austrian Nazism, were officially silenced.
Prior to his assassination, Dollfuss had understood and acted on the value of film in reassigning Austria’s representation and in strengthening a frontist mentality. He had attempted to reinvent the Austrian film industry landscape along nationalist lines but without actual nationalization of the industry. The new regime decreed that all films must be shown on Austrian-made equipment. Weekly newsreels were to be Austrian productions promoting the country’s achievements, to emphasize sovereign Austria against pan-German concepts of Nazism. To this end, the government founded the Vaterländische Tonfilmgesellschaft (Fatherland Sound Film Company) that absorbed the Österreich in Bild und Ton (Austria in Image and Sound) newsreel and culture film productions run by the Selenophon Company, but left feature production privatized.
Official censorship was decreed on March 9, 1934, and all independent film organizations and societies associated with political parties or movements (mostly Social Democratic) were replaced by a large state-controlled umbrella alliance, the Österreichische Filmkonferenz (Austrian Film Conference). While not representing centralization of the industry as in Germany, the association was a form of Ständestaat “estate” responsible for representing the film industry in Austria and abroad, as well performing mediation between different branches of the industry. The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Trade, as well as government departments responsible for financing and censorship would advise the alliance. The Catholic Church was strongly included in this hierarchy. Vienna’s Cardinal Theodor Innitzer so praised the idea of an organization to guide filmgoers that in October 1934 the Institut für Filmkultur (Institute of Film Culture) was born from an earlier Catholic youth culture group. A new semiofficial cinema publication, Der gute Film (The Good Film), would enable the church to propagate its input regarding film production and review and critique film presentation in Austria.
The institute also set the criteria for topics and scripts that might be made into Austrian films in the service of the “Christian, German and corporate state.” It created a rating system for Der gute Film that divided films into five categories: (1) Films of general artistic or technical acceptability were rated “valuable entertainment”; (2) those of limited artistic or technical acceptability were rated “conditionally valuable entertainment”; (3) films that were generally well made but without particular cultural or ideological value were rated “non-objectionable entertainment”; (4) films of a problematic thematic, artistic, or technical nature were to be “viewed with reservation”; and (5) films of little artistic or technical value or with negative cultural and/or ethical effect were “to be avoided.” 34 The final two categories were used to stem the flood of American imports and to filter out Nazi propaganda. 35 Not surprisingly, many filmmakers questioned the regime’s criteria of a “good” film and thus also the institute’s authority. Since the journal was not a state publication but one issued by the church in support of its values, and because the government did not have the ability to enforce its will beyond basic censorship, Der gute Film was an attempt to add credibility to the regime’s relationship with cinema by being critical and artistically demanding, even of films promoting state ideology. Interestingly, this made the daily press reviews often more supportive of independent film (those not following Nazi racial standards in order to be exported to Germany) and more patriotic regarding all Austrian productions than the church publication.
Beginning in March 1933, Germany, Austria’s largest film market, officially refused to release Austrian films that used Jewish or alleged anti-German/anti-National Socialist talent. Of the fourteen Austrian films in distribution at the time of the first National Socialist German film industry guidelines (March 1933 to February 1934), five were blocked from release, and one was pulled from distribution. The three films that had already been sold to German distributors, Abenteuer am Lido / Adventure on the Lido (Austria 1933), Frühlingsstimmen / Voices of Spring (Austria 1933), and Wenn du jung bist, gehört dir die Welt / When You Are Young, The World Belongs To You (Austria 1934), were rejected in an evasive manner that provides particular insight to the process. The new arm of the German Propaganda Ministry, the Reichsfilmkammer (Reich’s Film Chamber) known as the RFK, flatly dismissed Paul Fejos’s well-made Frühlingsstimmen due to its alleged “poor quality.” The real reason for its rejection, however, was the fact that operetta composer Oscar Straus, who was Jewish, had composed some of the film’s score.
Both Abenteuer am Lido and Wenn du jung bist . . . had been directed by an Austrian long active in German film, Richard Oswald, who was not only Jewish but whose filmography was comprised of socially critical and antiwar interpretations that the National Socialists had condemned before January 1933. 36 Furthermore, the two films starred singers Joseph Schmidt and Alfred Piccaver, as well as Hungarian comic actor Szöke Szakall, all of whom the RFK branded as “non-Aryan” and thus “unacceptable.” Ironically, the production company of Wenn du jung bist . . . , the Haas-Film company, founded by Heinrich Haas in 1933, was acceptable to the Nazi regime because Haas was considered “Aryan.” 37 Believing that he understood the new limitations on Austrian film in Nazi Germany, Haas had even contacted the RFK during the film’s production and offered it the script for censorship approval. The RFK insisted on several changes, with which Haas complied, but the central (racist) criticism focused on Joseph Schmidt, whom it considered too unattractive to help motivate the uninteresting plot. 38
The Film Agreement of 1934 between Austria and Nazi Germany placed the Austrian film industry under strangulating external pressure, especially since the agreement forbade the export to Germany of any Austrian film that included among cast or crew “non-Germans” (émigrés from Germany who were declared stateless by the Nazi regime) or “non-Aryan Austrians.” That this condition specifically aimed to destabilize the economy and to “Aryanize” Austrian cinema from the outside was clear to Oskar Pilzer, who served both as the director of Vienna’s largest and technically cutting-edge studio, Tobis-Sascha, and as president of the government-controlled Austrian Association of Film Production. His Pilzer Group held part or direct ownership in many Austrian film companies, including Vienna-Film, Gloria-Film, Viktoria-Film, Walter Reisch-Filmproduktion, and Tobis-Sascha. Pilzer argued that the Third Reich had set a special standard for Austrian films but was not as insistent on the use of “Aryan” talent when it came to other foreign imports:
The Austrian productions featuring Franziska Gaal are not allowed to approach the censors in Germany, but if such a film were to be produced in Hungary, there would be no trouble at all. Prominent Jews in French or British films pass through German censorship with ease, but in the case of an Austrian film, there would be objections to a Jewish third camera assistant. . . . Meanwhile, the Aryan Paragraph (of the Nuremberg Laws) has been enacted. Now, for example, Herr Reich is allowed to be a producer but not a director. . . . We must demand that there be no limitations on the use of “Austrians”; only those specifically mentioned in the contract should be so avoided. 39
Pilzer and others in the Austrian film industry originally believed that the Germans were not targeting Austrian citizens as such, only ex-German (“non-Aryan”) nationals in Austrian film, that the Nuremberg racial laws of Germany 40 should not apply to Austria, and that Austria would not institute an Aryan Paragraph of its own to suit Germany.
Unfortunately, Austrian film did exactly that by conceding to German demands for the sake of film distribution. Film credits were edited to remove the “undesirable” names, and in 1935, a new agreement put the now seriously disadvantaged and dependent Austrian film industry one step closer toward mandatory “Aryanization.” Austria was now limited to the distribution of twelve films annually in Germany through German companies, whereas Germany could export an unlimited number to Austria. This also marked the official start of Austria’s dual film industries, one that continued to answer to the “Aryan” laws of two states, and the other seeking ways to remaining independent or to circumvent the restrictions placed on talent and content that these various censorship arms had imposed. This latter “new” film industry is particularly interesting as a way to diagnose the enforcement of legal restrictions in a nongovernmental sector of the Austrian economy.
Many Germans and Austrians working in the German film industry made stateless or unemployable by the Nazi racial laws immediately headed for Hollywood, but a substantial portion went to Vienna (some to Budapest or Prague) where they could work in German-language film or because they originally hailed from Austria-Hungary or its successor states, or had connections in Vienna. Since they were subsequently prevented from working with most major Austrian film companies that exported to Germany, a secondary film industry developed around this talent. These new companies did not depend on Germany for investment or distribution, and they rejected Germany’s racial guidelines. The independent Emigrantenfilm (emigrant film) that they brought into being would utilize émigré and Austrian “non-Aryan” talent, coproduce their films with foreign studios in multilanguage versions, and market their films across Europe—a remarkable scheme that rested on clear limits of governmental control for their industry.
Two former employees of the German Terra-Film company, Rudi Loewenthal and Erich Morawsky, opened the first of these independent Emigrantenfilm production houses, the Wiener-Film / Morawsky & Co., in Vienna in 1934. The popular Austro-Hungarian (Czech) born German film and theater actor and singer Fritz Schulz directed their first film, Salto in die Seligkeit / Leap into Bliss (Austria 1934), which featured performances by Schulz, Felix Bressart, and Olly Gebauer. Loewenthal and Morawsky intended to follow the format and economic model of the original United Artists Company in Hollywood, where the performers were essentially shareholders in their films. 41 While successful for Salto , this innovative financial structure did not work for the follow-up film, Letzte Liebe / Last Love (Austria 1935), also directed by Schulz, which was shut down in preproduction. However, a member of one of Austria’s important business families, Julius Meinl II, eventually bankrolled the film by trading financial support for his Japanese wife’s (Michiko Meinl-Tanaka) leading role in the film. His generosity attracted major names to the Letzte Liebe project—Hans Jaray, Albert Bassermann, Oskar Karlweis, and opera singer Richard Tauber. Although the expensive film managed a return on its production costs, the experience forced the producers to consider international investment, particularly Scandinavian partnerships, for future projects. The company never produced another film, and Morawsky emigrated to France in 1936. 42 Director and actor Fritz Schulz made several independent and successful comedies before he fled to Switzerland in 1938 to work primarily in theater.
Despite its limited success, Wiener-Film Morawsky & Co. opened the doors to what became a secondary tier of Austrian film production in the 1930s and which allowed for a “star system” of its own. The independent Emigrantenfilm stimulated significant careers for leading actors, many of Jewish descent, like Austrian leading man Hans Jaray and Hungarian-born Franziska Gaal, one of the important but nearly forgotten comic stars in German-language film. Hungarian singer and dancer Rosy Barsony (also of Jewish descent) was able to continue working in independent productions until she was banned from performance in 1938. Hungarian star Szöke Szakall, German character actor Felix Bressart, and rotund, former UFA-Berlin comedian Otto Wallburg all gained wider fame in Emigrantenfilm. While Szakall and Bressart ultimately transferred their characterizations to Hollywood, Wallburg fled to Holland after 1938, where he survived underground until his deportation to Auschwitz in 1944. Another Emigrantenfilm staple was the non-Jewish actor Fritz Imhoff, who continued his work in Austrian film after the Anschluss and into the postwar period. In doing so, Imhoff was a rarity among leading non-Jewish performers, many of whom refused to work in an independent Emigrantenfilm for fear that it would harm their careers in the mainstream cinema. This fragmentation and mistrust in the Austrian film industry, which would stall its economic possibilities, was the very aim of the racial requirements forced on Austrian exports by the German market.
Hitler’s rise to power was also why Austrian female film pioneer Louise Kolm-Fleck and her husband and coproducer, Jakob Fleck, returned to Vienna in 1933 after several years of productions in Berlin, where they had become known as the “film couple.” In Vienna, they created four independent Austrian projects (two of these were considered Czechoslovakian films for the sake of export quotas) coproduced in Vienna and Prague. They were interned at Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps in 1938 but regained their freedom and emigrated to Shanghai with the help of German-Hollywood director William Dieterle.
These brief thumbnails suggest the space that Austrian film under Austrofascism would occupy, a public arena with constantly shifting regulations and strictures, but most importantly, one that also offered some chance for independent decisions in the way that nationalized film production in Germany did not. The following chapters fill in the exact topography of that map, showing the innovation and devotion to filmmaking that existed on both sides of the political wall, down the middle of the film industry.
1. Like the Spanish Falangist-authoritarianism mix, Austrian authoritarianism maintained a strong alignment with the Catholic Church. It is termed corporate or corporatist in reference to the socioeconomic structure of major interest groups as representative estates ( Stände ) within the state such as business, agriculture, education, military, art, science, medicine, and so forth. This was central to Italian Fascism but remained incomplete and ultimately unsuccessful in Austria.

2. Talos and Neugebauer, “Vorwort,” Austrofaschismus , 1. All translations from German language print and film are by the author unless otherwise indicated.
3. For varied and detailed analysis of the political and social history of Austria’s First Republic and the clerico-authoritarian state, see also among others: Bärnthaler, Die Vaterländische Front ; Beller, A Concise History of Austria ; Brook-Shepherd, The Austrians. A Thousand Year Odyssey ; Carsten, Faschismus in Österreich: Von Schönerer zu Hitler ; Drimmel, Vom Kanzlermord zum Anschluß. Österreich 1934–1938; Garscha and Hautmann, Februar 1934 in Österreich; Hanisch, Die Ideologie des Politischen Katholizismus in Österreich 1918 – 1938 ; Heer, Der Kampf um die österreichische Identität ; Johnston, The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History 1848–1938 ; Judson, The Habsburg Empire: A New History ; Kadrnoska, ed., Aufbruch und Untergang: Österreichische Kultur zwischen 1918 und 1938 ; Kindermann, Hitler ’s Defeat in Austria 1933–1934 ; Kluge, Der österreichische Ständestaat 1934 – 1938 ; Luža, Austro-German Relations in the Anschluss-Era ; Meysels, Der Austrofaschismus ; Pauley, Hitler and the Forgotten National Socialists ; Rabinbach, The Crisis of Austrian Socialism ; Rogger and Weber, eds. The European Right ; Steininger, Bischof, Gehler, eds. Austria in the Twentieth Century ; Talos, Dachs, Hanisch, Staudinger, eds. Handbuch des politischen Systems Österreichs ; Veiter, Das 34er Jahr ; von Schuschnigg, Austrian Requiem ; Walterskirchen, Starhemberg oder die Spuren der 30er Jahre ; Weinzierl, Der Februar 1934 und die Folgen für Österreich .
4. Johnson, Introducing Austria , 71.
5. Wasserman, Black Vienna , 2–3, indicates that use of this term in the era was mostly by conservatives that rejected Vienna’s municipal government and insinuated a revolutionary or Marxist threat that needed containment. To avoid this image, it was not used by the Social Democrats as self-description, 2–3
6. Timms, “Cultural Parameters Between the Wars,” 23.
7. Ibid., 23.
8. See Troller, “Interview.” Troller’s experiences in Vienna during the late 1930s, his emigration to the United States in 1938, and his return to Europe as an American soldier stationed in Munich in a division that interviewed prisoners of war. From 1982–86, Austrian director Axel Corti produced a trilogy of films collectively titled Wohin und Zurück/Where To and Back , written by Troller and loosely based on his experiences at the Anschluss, in the United States, and with his return occupied Austria. The individual films are An uns glaubt Gott nicht mehr/God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore (Austria 1982), Santa Fe (Austria 1985), Welcome in Vienna (Austria 1986). The latter film’s critical look at the destitution and the problematic reception of the Nazi past in occupied Austria found international acclaim through its airing on Public Broadcasting (PBS) in the United States and ultimately influenced the development of the neorealistic New Austrian Film in the 1990s.
9. Johnson, Introducing Austria , 96.
10. See Blau, The Architecture of Red Vienna .
11. Timms, “Cultural Parameters between the Wars,” 26.
12. Silverman, Becoming Austrian , 170.
13. Ibid., 160.
14. See Burri, “Austrian Festival Missions after 1918,” for a discussion of the Festival as comparative political exercise.
15. “Die Kundgebung des geistigen Wien,” Arbeiter-Zeitung , April 20, 1927, 1.
16. Wasserman, Black Vienna , 48.
17. Timms, “Cultural Parameters between the Wars,” 27.
18. Ibid., 28.
19. Wasserman, Black Vienna , 15.
20. Ibid., 20.

21. Ibid., 17.
22. Ibid., 46.
23. Ibid., 93–94.
24. Dollfuss was an admirer of the Duce, and Italy was wary of Nazi German expansionism until the necessity of the Rome-Berlin Pact of 1936, and protected Austria as part of its geopolitical sphere.
25. Ernst Hanisch quoted by Kirk, “Fascism and Austrofascism,” 22–23.
26. Ibid., 23.
27. Botz, Krisenzonen einer Demokratie , 211–36.
28. Kluge, Der österreichische Ständestaat , 87–90.
29. Ernst Hanisch quoted by Kirk, “Fascism and Austrofascism,” 23.
30. See Scheuch, 12. Februar 1934; and Weinzierl, Der Februar 1934 .
31. Jagschitz, “Die Anhaltelager in Österreich,”149.
32. Wohnout, “A Chancellorial Dictatorship with a “Cooperative” Pretext,” 143–45.
33. Stewart, “Popular Culture in Austria: Cabaret and Film,” 97.
34. Der gute Film 56/1933, 1.
35. Between 1934 and 1938, a total of 265 U.S. and 70 German films received Category III and IV ratings, while only 20 French, 20 British, 9 Czechoslovakian, and 6 Austrian films were given these ratings. See Mock, “Aspekte austrofaschistischer Film- und Kinopolitik,” 122.
36. Most famous among them are Dreyfus (Germany 1930), Der Hauptmann von Köpenick , and Die letzten Tage vor dem Weltbrand (Germany 1931).
37. Loacker and Prucha, “Die Unabhängige deutschsprachige Filmproduktion,” 57.
38. Loacker, Anschluss im 3/4 Takt , 142.
39. Ibid., 150–51.
40. The Nuremberg Racial Laws were enacted on September 15, 1935, by the Nazi controlled German Reichstag. They consisted of two interlocked decrees: The Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, banned marriage and extramarital sexual relations between Jews and “Aryan” Germans as well as the employment of “Aryan” females under forty-five in Jewish homes, as a criminal offence; the Reich Citizenship Law declared that only those of German or other “Aryan” blood were eligible to be citizens of the Third Reich. Those not eligible were stateless and could claim no citizen or legal rights. Moreover, an additional decree detailed precisely who would be considered “Aryan,” Jewish, half-Jew, and “Mischling” (or “mixed” for quarter Jew or less). Jews were also decreed enemies of the state along with Sinti and Roma populations, homosexuals, and “asocials” who rejected Nazism and race laws on the basis of religion, politics, or principle.
41. Ibid., 168.
42. Loacker and Prucha, “Die Unabhängige deutschsprachige Filmproduktion,” 29.
Notes on Newsreel and Culture Film Production, the Legacy of Baroque and Fin de Siècle Vienna, and Political Catholicism in Public Spectacle
While National Socialism claimed a “revolutionary” or at least socially altering ideological platform, Austrofascist concepts, aimed mostly against Nazism, Socialism, and to some extent capitalism, were weakened by the fact that the corporate clerico-authoritarian state was never a mass movement of the kind Mussolini had managed. Its inability to fulfill its decidedly retro-Habsburgian mission in re/unifying Central Europe and the unfinished attempt at establishing a true corporate economy forced the regime to recognize a stasis, which could best be dealt with in the aestheticization of loss and of the regime’s limitations.
Unlike the active expansionist platform of National Socialism, the Austrian corporate state was built on separation from Germany and the party politics of the Left and the German nationalistic Right and Nazism. Austrofascism defined itself by what it was not rather than what propelled it, in all aspects except for Dollfuss’s overriding desire to re-Catholicize Austria, which faded with the more bourgeois regime of Schuschnigg. Its external demonstrations of this problematic “fascism” mimicked what was popular across Europe in the 1930s. In closely examining the relationship between public display and contextualization in cinematic reportage and function, an additional artistic/philosophical imprint of the ideology comes into focus.
Whereas the public/political performance in National Socialism and Italian Fascism celebrates the shift from female to male objectivity and superiority, from the intellectual to the physical (and racial in Nazism), and from diverse discourse on ethics and morality to monolithic imagery of strength, public Austrofascist self-conception and promotion follows Catholic connotation and ritual in unalloyed or adaptive formats. Unlike the spectacles of Berlin and Rome, Vienna shows the unseeable: the connection to the lost or dead Old Austria, its faith in the past and its desire to resurrect its spirit, not in a revolutionary or progressive sense but in a transcendence of the concrete present (e.g., loss of territory and power, economic failure, geopolitical pressure, social/political dissention). There is active desire to continue the lost past though ritual—a social transubstantiation—and to reduce politics into a revitalizing discourse on the lost and as a servant of divine will. Contextually, these public performances find their basis in the theater of the baroque and in the baroque physical manifestation of spiritual epiphany. What is presented is decorative and generically fascistoid, at odds with itself in the desire to undercut Nazi Germany’s ostentatious pseudo-historicism in the arts, architecture, and even graphic design, with the seemingly unrelated enshrinement of the baroque and with a reality influenced more by Adolf Loos in its counter against “German style” and the megalomaniac distortions of Albert Speer’s quasi-classicism. This modernism finds its most impressive example in the striking proto-1950s look of the delicate steel and glass pavilion and the modern graphic designs of the official Austrian program from the 1937 Paris World’s Fair. 1 Moreover, the spiritual Catholic Mass simulacrum of Austrofascist public events are intended to be individualist in its spiritual “moving” upward to the unseen, to Christ and God, albeit in the setting of community identification. The race deifying basis of Nazism is physical and horizontally expansive (even given Hitler’s transference of Catholic ritual elements to National Socialist performance), oppressive and conformist, yet presenting individualistic value in its problematic Goethe-era neoclassical root formula of harmony = beauty = truth.
Cinematic coverage of Austrofascist public events had the most nationalistic control of any motion picture production in Austria’s non-nationalized film industry during 1934–1938. Nevertheless, it proved to be far less important to Austrian culture and society of the Ständestaat than entertainment film, which were subject to church critique and a censorship that ranged from the customary for independent film, to the growing Nazi influenced manipulation of style and content in films bound specifically for the German market but also to prepare the Austrians for a racist industry. Chancellor Dollfuss had called for the use of film as an instrument of propaganda to “spread the values of the Fatherland,” or more specifically, the Fatherland Front ideology of his new government, in March 1933. 2 Austrian cinemas were duty bound as of July 1933 to screen the official newsreel for the Austrofascist regime, produced by Austria’s own sound film method/company, Selenophon, which would also create short and long form culture films for the propagation of Austrian values inside the country and showcase its nature and culture abroad. The new Österreich in Bild und Ton (Austria in Picture and Sound) was the result and the first images of this weekly newsreel flashed on Austrian screens on July 10, 1933, by order of the Ministry for Education. 3
Beyond its presentation of general news and official events, the newsreel’s ideological/cultural propaganda was limited, even feeble at the start. Given Austria’s lack of allies in Europe aside from Italy and Hungary, which had their own and more sophisticated reportage, and given the visual limitations of depicting Austrian re-Catholization and the development of a corporate state, Österreich in Bild und Ton focused on the past or on celebrations that garnered little interest outside Austria. For example, the newsreel’s production of the culture film Das Heilige Jahr des Deutschen Katholiken/The Holy Year for German Catholics (Austria 1933) or the coverage of the Marcus d’Avino celebrations of 1934 and 1935, which recalled the monk’s role in the routing of the Turkish Siege of Vienna in 1683, were to represent Dollfuss’s new “mass aesthetic” translated to the cinema, which included most church festivals, celebrations of the “Stände” (the guilds and professions that comprised the corporate social identification structure), and the youth celebration which arrogated the workers’ traditional May Day. 4
During the first years of production, the newsreels were poorly distributed, and with the standing order that theaters show a national newsreel with every feature, cinemas that had no new edition would repeatedly show the same one. Presentations were redundant in topic and aesthetically unappealing to audiences that had seen foreign newsreels. Direction and editing of the reportage was slow to adapt to the medium’s requirement for a specific visual and editorial approach. The new weekly newsreel was also in competition with the slick New Subjectivity informed aspects of the Nazi German and Italian fascist culture film style. 5 The equally problematic early Austrian culture film was often poorly photographed and edited by a crew with little experience for the style needed to construct a successful documentary film. 6 Before 1933, Austrian culture film was not an aspect of newsreel production and was independently created by professional documentary and narrative filmmakers, giving them more artistic qualities even in cross-genre films, as in the case of Siegfried Walter Fischer’s Mikrophon auf Reisen aka Reporter auf der Welle aka Oh, du mein Österreich/Reporter on the Air (Austria 1932). This Selenophon production successfully blended a fictional story using actors to bolster a semidocumentary on the Austrian national radio company RAVAG (Radio-Verkehrs-Aktiengesellschaft or Radio Communication Company Ltd.). The radio concern, founded in Vienna in 1925, had quickly accomplished national broadcast, a large audience, and was noted for its sophisticated offerings of readings, lectures, and live performances from the Vienna Opera and the Salzburg Festival. Sport broadcasting began in 1928, but news reportage remained limited due to the power of the printed press and the neutrality policy of the government. This changed with the Dollfuss regime, which not only used RAVAG for political news and commentary but also encouraged Catholic themes in literature, art, and music broadcasts, created a daily spiritual hour in 1933, and also broadcast mass and large church or state celebrations. Originally emanating from a space in the War Ministry building on the Ringstrasse, the studio was targeted during the February 1934 civil war and then occupied in July by members of the Austrian National Socialist putsch that attempted to seize the government following the assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss. Damaged in the battle by government forces attempting to regain control of the station, the new chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, ordered the building demolished, and construction on a new RAVAG Funkhaus (Radio House) designed in a modernist neoclassic style by leading architect Clemens Holzmeister was begun in 1935. It was not completed until 1939. 7

As the most significant building designed and built under Austrofascism, the RAVAG Funkhaus has been used to gauge the intersection of design and social philosophy in the ideology, which turned its back on Red Vienna’s social housing projects in favor of fulfilling the 1931 call by Pope Pius XI for the deproletization of the working class. This would be done with bourgeois-like Siedlungen , or village communities, comprising of one or two family houses, which would also be a corrective to the capitalist “Asphalt-kultur” (urban asphalt culture) and an important example of the Catholic state’s “Politik der Tat” (politics of deed/action). 8 Nevertheless, creation of government-owned apartment buildings continued on a more modest scale and in a neutral architectural style as a conscious departure from the “pathos” of the workers’ housing of Red Vienna. 9 These were now supported by the Wiener Assanierungsfonds , a municipal fund for the advancement of building and urban development in Vienna created in 1934 in the service of clearing the city of traffic delaying areas and encouraging private investment and construction strategies for the middle class. 10 Church building had precedence, including the construction of Notkirchen (emergency chapels) in existing Red Vienna housing blocks. Structures devoted to ideology and monuments after 1934 were largely planned as memorials for the Märtyrerkanzler (martyred Chancellor) Dollfuss. The new government-owned communal blocks were known as Familienasyle (family asylums) and were given the names of saints (Familienasyl St. Anna, Familienasyl St. Leopold, etc.). 11 Privately owned apartment buildings, office buildings, mixed use structures (apartments and stores), and houses tended toward a neutral modernism in design, influenced by Italian and French architecture of the time. 12
Austrian architectural historian and critic, Friedrich Achleitner, insists that the RAVAG building, which was loyal to its original design plans despite its completion in 1939, does not represent the existence of any specific “Austrofascist architecture.” The almost futuristic rectangular concrete façade of the Austrian pavilion designed by one of the leading creators of Viennese architectural modernism, Josef Hoffmann for the 1934 Venice Biennale, 13 is itself a reduction of his modified classicism from the Secessionist era before the First World War, 14 and the steel and glass atrium pavilion representing Austria at the 1937 Paris World’s Fair is no less the case. While Achleitner admits the RAVAG building might generally recall the unadorned simplified classic form of the official German “Führerbauten” (Führer buildings) in “demonstrating the political power of the new mass medium,” its difference and its additional relationship with the modernist aspects of Italian Fascist architecture can be “found in the details.” 15 Perhaps the only message Austrofascist design might give on an ideological level, particularly in the case of the two pavilions and the RAVAG building, is its emergence from and loyalty to Viennese modernism. The use of elements from that era in design, graphic arts, and popular culture, was a clear volley against Nazi German ideology because the Viennese fin de siècle schools were a basis for what was deemed degenerate in art and design (classical modernity, expressionism and abstraction) by Hitler.

At first glance, the RAVAG structure does appear in harmony with the generic neoclassical, even art moderne tinged façades of official architecture that rose across much of Europe and the Americas during the 1930s. Its Viennese vernacular also reflects the unadorned ur-modernism of Adolf Loos’s Michaelerhaus of 1911, which for all the revulsion it caused among traditionalists at the time, especially Emperor Franz Joseph and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it is in fact a reductive tribute to the baroque architectural standards so embraced by the Habsburgs. Its marble colonnade at the main entry, unlike neoclassical porticos, echoes the fluidity of motion, and the light and shadow of the most traditional baroque structure. Its main frontage, comprised of the infamous “windows without eyebrows” (e.g. nonornamented or framed windows), is also a minimalist translation of baroque structural elements. Loos designed this apartment segment above the marble portal to be flat, rational, and unadorned, but it nevertheless represents the horizontal and hierarchical levels of the baroque façade, as does the geometrical revision of the dome. While Loos’s unornamented modernism may have ultimately developed into a rationalization of classicism in its geometric structure (Haus Steiner 1910), which would ultimately influence the progressive German Bauhaus, as well as the reactionary neoclassical monumentalism in interwar public and government architecture, his most Viennese designs are unmistakably deconstructed baroque.
The attempt to develop the Ringstrasse, particularly the unfinished imperial forum of the conglomerate Hofburg palace as the city grew in the 1880s, had prompted several architects to create plans that were simply too grandiose and after 1914, too belated to make sense. By then, the linking of the museum tract of the Maria-Theresien-Platz to the imperial center across the Ringstrasse seemed more important and demonstrative of state power than the erection of a new religious edifice on the Ringstrasse or at the Hofburg. Yet, the ideal of further articulating the apostolic quality of the Habsburg imperium survives: Otto Wagner’s 1892–1889 plans for the imperial forum show a throne room/chapel replacing the Leopoldinischer Trakt (Leopold Tract, 1674–1681) in his plans for the modernization (read Jugendstil- ization of the Hofburg façade). 16 Wagner’s structures that would have spanned across (and interrupted) the Ringstrasse and attached the dual reflecting Art and Natural History Museums to the Hofburg gates suggest the colonnade “arms” that envelop worshipers at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As late as 1912, architect Josef Hannich conceived a plan to complete the opposite wing of the Neue Burg and remove the Heldenplatz for an imperial church and crypt. 17 Symbolically, Catholicism and particularly the belief of transcendence in death would be tied to the Habsburgs as Austria’s quasi-saints. The immense dome of this edifice would have been a secessionized-modernized one, traces of which appear in Albert Speer’s design plans for Hitler’s megalomaniac Great Dome project for Berlin. It did not escape Hitler that the Hofburg palace was essentially a structure of religious connotation beyond its historic dynastic representation when he sketched his first architectural drafts in Vienna. In fulfilling the plan for Hitler’s Great Dome, Albert Speer utilized the ideas born of the Neue Burg’s curved colonnade, the Corps de Logis , and mixed them with elements from St. Peter’s Basilica and references to that edifice of a secular new order, the Capitol building in Washington, DC. 18

The architectural mysticism of Vienna, evolving from the imperial Hofburg palace and its surrounding tracts, was not lost in the architectural planning of the immediate postimperial era and later in structural design plans under the political Catholicism of the 1930s. Architect Rudolf Perco’s (1894–1942) talent and political flexibility or opportunism made him a force in the Red Vienna working class architecture of the 1920s, but his grandiose, even megalomaniac design from 1918 to balance the unfinished Hofburg Kaiserforum by reflecting the single Neue Burg wing and replacing the disused baroque Fischer von Erlach imperial stables just beyond the dual museums on the Maria-Theresien-Platz with an Otto Wagner-style Secessionist temple in granite and gold known as the Sühnendenkmal für den Weltkrieg (Monument of Atonement for the World War), was utopian in conflicting ways. 19 Originally conceived during the final phase of what became the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty between Germany and Russia, which suggested that a separate peace for Austria-Hungary was still a possibility, and rising 150 meters, the height of an average urban contemporary steel and glass office structure, it was to be a war memorial in the most profoundly religious sense of the idea, rather than in the usual heroic manner. Yet by the end of the year and following the fall of the monarchy, the structure could also be understood to block the Hofburg and dual museum tracts from the city with what was a dead-end wall. The symbolism would be ambiguous. It would destabilize, even deny the postimperial social and political value of the Hofburg and the museums (the unfinished imperial forum) as a monarchist pilgrimage site by overpowering it with the stone memory of Austria’s war sins. However, it would also frame the imperial artifact structures as if they were mythical fragments in an architectural monstrance.
During the clerico-authoritarian period, Perco envisioned a massive Catholic-Christian revival mecca for the world with an absurdly gargantuan Zelte Davids (Tent of David). This pyramidal tent like structure would have replaced not only the Fischer von Erlach stables (now part of the postmodernist mix that is today’s expansive MuseumsQuartier) but would also extend far back into the adjoining sixth district. Obliterating the consumer area of the Mariahilferstrasse, it would be a globally unique site uniting all Christian denominations—under Catholicism, of course. The tent structure itself, also a variant of the baroque dome, would suggest the Old Testament roots of Catholicism. 20 The defunct monarchy would also be emblematically incorporated into this mass religious experience, as the visitors to the tent hall would have a visual perspective of the Hofburg not unlike gazing at the Temple Mount or any sacred “ruin” no longer meant for traditional use. Perco’s attempts to first overshadow and then to utilize “imperial mysticism” by distancing and memorializing it points directly to Albert Speer’s architectural plans which would represent the National Socialist re-vision of German history (particularly in Berlin) and in the aesthetization of war. It is not surprising that following the 1938 Anschluss, the gifted Rudolf Perco became a victim of his own professional Gleichschaltung (switching over) to National Socialist ideology in re-translating Viennese architectural mysticism into the “weaponized” neoclassical gigantism that symbolized social Darwinism under National Socialism.

Hitler’s revenge against Habsburg and both Red and Black Vienna meant the emergence of a new German arts metropolis, his “ Patenstadt Linz,” (patronage city Linz), 21 and the allowance of Vienna to partially decay, utilizing it only for museum, traditional/provincial theatrical, and war strategic purposes. As early as 1938, Vienna’s Nazi mayor Hermann Neubacher called the city the “Hamburg of the Southeast,” reframing Vienna impossibly along the lines of a Protestant merchant and port city, once the projected Rhine-Danube Canal would be completed. 22 Nothing would be accomplished, however, until the Catholic heart had been removed from the Hofburg. Reinterpretations of the unfinished forum include a plan to relocate the Burggarten’s Thesus Temple to “mirror” the crescent Corps de Logis of the Neue Burg as an absurdly minor neo-Grecian pagan conclusion. More extreme designs dictated the very destruction of the Heldenplatz, with the removal of the Burgtor (the palace gateway) and the Burggarten (palace garden) to create a military review space (complete with a Speerian neoclassic adaptation of the planned Kaiserforum archways) that would move beyond the Ringstrasse and across the Danube bridges as colossal “festival avenues” originating in what is today the twenty-second district. 23 Thus this “feminine” city of the Ring (-Strasse), the outer “working class” secondary traffic, and public transport “ring” of the Gürtel (girdle), which was not truly developed on both banks of its river as most other riparian metropolises until the mid-twentieth century, would have lost its unique womb-like pattern to an empty phallus-shaped space aiming from sub-urban Vienna into the center of its former imperial core. Beyond the sprawling destruction this plan would entail for its incongruous piercing of Vienna’s historical-architectural Ringstrasse Hofburg unity, the largely forgotten option of razing the entire imperial tract for parade ground, a Kraft-durch-Freude (Nazi “Strength through Joy” leisure organization) sport center, and even a central railroad station, ultimately seemed too drastic a solution for even the most Habsburg loathing Austrian Nazis.
Is there then a pattern here that might be teased out to understand the importance of the Counter-Reformation as the lingering organism that separates “Vienna 1900’s” unique architectural and visual modernity from others of the time? Does this also suggest that here is one more space for the disputed study of remnants of sub-rosa religious and cultish urban design in Europe? Perhaps the way to reexamine the architectural “Vienna 1900” with its contradictions and its various attempts at creating a totalizing metropolitan Gesamtkunstwerk is to scrutinize more thoroughly the metaphysical intentions of the aesthetic movements and urban concepts of that era, and the reactions to them in the decades following the First World War, particularly under Austrofascism. The aesthetic philosophy of Viennese Jugendstil and the Secession is most certainly a projection of the baroque teatrum mundi concept, in which the social and political real world are manipulated in the same way that the theatre allows actors and the staging present or limit what is presented, while hiding the technical machinery that makes the illusion happen. It is also the application of the maraviglia or wonder principal of the baroque (from Giambattista Marino’s literature) in which imagination and mysticism is aroused in the spectator/participant of such urban design. 24

The reality of the impoverished First Republic rejected these prewar concepts for a utilitarian modernity, as in the massive working class housing projects of Red Vienna. But it was the Catholic political setting of the Ständestaat , which in its ardent nostalgia for the idealized Habsburg world, came to embrace Secessionism in urban design and the visual arts because of its general association with, and emergence under the monarchy. Its baroque characteristics and its ersatz-national style made this art nouveau so different from Berlin and Paris. The concepts and elements of this modernist “Vienna 1900” are attached to and promoted by Austrofascist political Catholicism because it underscores the difference of the imperial Vienna vis-à-vis Protestant/Prussian/secular (and contemporary National Socialist) urban sites of power. Public rallies and political events in Austrofascist Vienna attempted to echo the Counter-Reformation images that punctuate the city, and capture this on film as Austria’s reanimation through its spiritual identity.
Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s 1922 essay “Ersatz für Träume” (Replacement for Dreams) counts among the first attempts at cogent film theory. It posits the ability of the medium to satisfy the psychological need for a vicarious or substitute life, a dreamlike escape for the masses from the tedium of daily existence in a world that had become disconnected from its myths. For the author, film could subconsciously influence society in a way that “surface” and “indirect” language could not. “Es ist zuviel von der Algebra in dieser Sprache” (There is too much of the algebra in this language), 25 Hofmannsthal concludes, for the word to reconnect post–World War I society with the lost myths and values of the past. Film would thus be the perfect medium to amplify the goals he had also sought to bring about through the visual/emotional effects of musical drama and dance.
The disintegration of the sociopolitical conditions Hofmannsthal believed was necessary for Austrian-German culture and for a healthy European future in the wake of the catastrophic war and its aftermath led the author to stress the need for a “counter-experience.” 26 By 1925, the conservative Hofmannsthal even refers to “eine schöpferische Restauration” (a creative restoration). 27 Quite clearly, silent cinema provided Hofmannsthal with the possibility of reanimating the lost old order (even to create a new antiquity) and provide a platform to showcase Vienna’s high-art cultural tradition. For Hofmannsthal, the veiled propagandistic film imagery would (re)create a sense of sociocultural continuity with Old Austria, his “conservative revolution,” and even the pan-cultural European Idea 28 on a subconscious level. Rhetoric had failed the author in this quest, and despite his “schöne Sprache” (beautiful language) he understood that it had been responsible for the subversion of traditional values and the confusion of social and political identity in the postwar era.
Beyond the hope that film would surpass theater, dance, or opera and somehow unify aspects of all these arts in a transcendent Gesamtkunstwerk , Hofmannsthal considered film a propaganda vehicle where mass audiences might reconnect to the mythic and the lost totality of a prewar world. Assenka Oksiloff believes the desire to use the new medium to provide the concepts of the reconstructive and the spiritual/ eternal to be at the root of Hofmannsthal’s “archaic modernism.” Hofmannsthal’s cinema activism is certainly tied to class and to his hope for reconstituting the lost Austria and its values disintegrated by the Great War. He clearly considers film as the medium by which he could enforce the auratic quality of his specific Weltanschauung , winning back the alienated working class from empty modernist (Marxist?) ideologies while the upper classes retained their more sophisticated cultural understanding through the immutable beautiful language. 29
The final unproduced Hofmannsthal film scenario, a Heimkehrerstück (returning soldier narrative) from 1928, which was to involve Lillian Gish and Max Reinhardt, certainly indicates the author’s hidden desire to cinematically alter history. The untitled script is set in November 1918 as thousands of Austrian soldiers return to a starving, truncated land. The character constellation of Hofmannsthal’s messianic allegory includes the nature-bound forester and his daughter Resi, who represent law and order; Hans, a returning soldier, and his mother, who symbolize the rupture of the traditional family structure; and Kasper, a Bolshevik who has a hunchbacked son, Euseb. Hans attempts to hunt for food to feed his starving mother and accidentally shoots the forester, but it is the bullet of another gun that actually kills him. Hans nevertheless takes the blame and attempts to support Resi and her younger siblings in what is a re-formation of the family unit. Subsequently, a mob from the town accuses the couple of the murder of Resi’s father and imprisons them with the Bolsheviks. An almost biblical flood destroys the prison and kills Kasper, whose son Euseb confesses to the parish priest that Hans and Resi are indeed innocent. The remaining Bolsheviks are freed from their captivity by the flood, and they take control of the town. They witness Resi’s hands bleeding with stigmata as she forgives Euseb. All are transformed by this moving event, and Resi is embraced as a saintly figure announcing spiritual transcendence and a new world order.
A Heimatfilm with aspects of the sociocritical melodrama popular in Austrian cinema during the 1920s, the Gish project offers a mystical resolution that signals salvation and a national rebirth foreshadowing the political Catholicism of Engelbert Dollfuss. It can be read as the author’s attempt to defend Austria’s virtuousness in the war and in its aftermath, and it intends to provide a religious exit from the trauma of the loss of the empire and the dislocation of the new remnant state. It relies on the promise of the silent visual and the transmitted or enacted visions of destiny, rather than on the propagandistic word, to recontextualize post-1918 Austria.
The culture films of Österreich in Bild und Ton and the narrative films of the period do not approach the mythic-symbolic/spectatorial-transfromative possibilities Hofmannsthal envisioned, but they show signs of maturation by the mid-1930s, and could then be included as part of the internationally marketed Austrian cinema although it still met with stiff competition from foreign newsreel productions at home. One of the first successes in longer content and fresher style was Weisse Kohle/ White Coal (Austria 1935), a short documentary dealing with the transformation of Austrian urban society through electricity, and Dorfsymphonie/Village Symphony (Austria 1935), a film dealing with nearly the opposite. Utilizing impressively shot landscapes of rural beauty to frame an idyllic look at contemporary Austrian farm life, the film underscores Catholicism as the connection between traditional family units of the village (as opposed to the German Volksgemeinschaft or racially based community ideal of Blut und Boden ), as well as the “healthy” traditionalist and even antitechnical approach to farming. It was an intentional rejection of the extended household and technocratic messages of Nazi agriculture films and found interest in Italy and the United States. 30
State building projects accomplished by enforced labor service, such as the creation of the major roadways of the trans-alpine Grossglockner-Hochalpenstrasse, the Vienna to Kahlenberg Höhenstrasse, and the cross-province Klagenfurt to Graz Packstrasse 31 were suggested to be in competition with the German Autobahn construction. Newsreels were also made of official visits to loyal labor sites or to one of the more popular Fatherland Front locations, the Vienna Mutterschutzwerk (Action for Protection of the Mother), at which the traditional family-oriented regime offered instructions for mothers to be, gratis gifts of diapers and necessities for the newborn, and guidance for female health and child rearing. It was intended to replace the Social Democratic family interest reputation of Vienna’s working-class housing projects with Catholic caritas. 32
Austrian newsreels were also active in highlighting the deleterious aspects facing the construction of the new Austria. It “justified” the Dollfuss regime by showing the heroism of the Heimwehr militia and other national forces battling terror actions of the Socialists and Austrian Nazis who were protesting their illegal status with violent, often bomb throwing attacks. These victories and subsequent arrests of criminal cadres affirmed the success of the regime’s will and the security of the nation in the first two years of screenings. The brief but bloody civil war of February 1934, which was primarily fought by the government shelling of Socialist strongholds within the massive worker’s housing of Vienna, was depicted as a much larger attempt at containing a Marxist coup throughout Austria by Österreich in Bild und Ton . The result was constructed into a significant victory for the Dollfuss regime, as the opposition was reviled and government associated victims were given state funerals, which were reported with lamentation by the newsreel. The two rival Heimwehr leaders—Major Emil Fey and Prince Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg—were depicted as delivering the country firmly into the hands of traditionalism and honor that evoked linkages with imperial Austria.
The assassination of Chancellor Dollfuss on July 25, 1934, tested the qualities and viability of the newsreel reportage of Österreich in Bild und Ton , particularly as this event created a true international desire for footage of the failure of the intended Austrian Nazi coup and its aftermath in Vienna. It fulfilled expectations of news spectacle with coverage of the state funeral climaxed with a Catholic Mass of approximately 500,000 on the Heldenplatz facing the black and Kruckenkreuz (crutch cross) flag–bedecked monumental façade of the Hofburg palace, 33 where Hitler would give his equally crowded Anschluss balcony speech four years later. The comparison of the infamous 1938 Heldenplatz appearance of Hitler to a crowd of about 200,000 celebrating German occupation and Austria’s “return to the Reich,” with stills and newsreel records of equally massive attendance at state sponsored (anti-Nazi) events during the Austrofascist regime, such as the 250,000 that attended an Austrofascist gathering at the Heldenplatz in July 1935, 34 reveals the contrivance of the “uniqueness” of the 1938 event. It was intended to vanquish the memory and the visuals of every previous mass event in Austria, and to be its final one. Hitler never repeated this specific choreography in Vienna or in any other subjugated land. The point of the ultimate European embrace of National Socialism had been made in this one instance, just as all Nazi Party Congresses would be represented by Riefenstahl’s capture of the 1934 gathering in Triumph des Willens (Germany 1935). But even as Austria had positioned authoritarianism against Nazism, blocked the Dollfuss assassination coup, and enjoyed the support of Mussolini, there would also be the sham plebiscite held following the German invasion on April 10, 1938, which co-opted Chancellor Schuschnigg’s intended referendum on unification scheduled for March 13. It displayed to the world that minds could be changed by 99.7% for Hitler. 35
Following the assassination of Dollfuss, the Österreich in Bild und Ton was not short of memorial events and the newsreel matured quickly through orchestrating the themes of national crisis and mourning, which extended beyond 1934 for the martyred “Heldenkanzler” (heroic Chancellor). The newsreel moved away from its early primitive style with a sense of gravitas it took on with the assassination. Its aesthetics also evolved into a more internationalist style with Schuschnigg’s continuation of the corporate state.
Nevertheless, the Österreich in Bild und Ton would record the problematic attempt by Austrofascism to position itself against Nazism and the ideas of the Left, while at once mimicking and denying (Nazi) spectacle to promote Austrian national identity distinct from images and ideas emanating from Germany. Its inability to utilize mass spectacle reflects the control of the state by a traditional bourgeois elite that found itself reenergized with the 1934 ban on the Left and thus were never enthusiastic promoters of a “mass” consciousness. Rather than domesticate and limit modernity as in Nazi film, or build on the mythic “look” of the Fatherland Front’s emblems for visual/social totalization, Austrian film reportage and national promotion embraced a modernist style after its first unimaginative start that was couched in Catholicism and Adolf Loos instead of German ethnic traditions expected from a reactionary state that still declared itself “German and Christian.” Design for popular culture embraced a modernism that grew from the First Republic and “Red Vienna” and was comparable with design in Western Europe and the United States. Beyond the newsreel and culture film production, advertisement, graphics, and even the branding of the “Made in Austria” logo, which constructs an abstracted reference to an elegant eagle at rest (its wing feathers made up by the letters and positioned downward) out of the name “Austria.” It was intended to distance itself as far as possible from the National Socialist “look,” yet at the same time, somehow maintain the conventions of a monumental style that would distinguish the regime from liberal republicanism/socialism. There was no imitation of the popular art and graphics of Italian fascism (based in futurism) during and after Dollfuss (1933–1934) and the alliance with Mussolini (to 1936), rather an internationalist modernity dominated visual graphic design in the era of Schuschnigg, and modernism in fine art, architecture, and music composition was considered a cultural accomplishment for the regime just as Mussolini had encouraged modernism in Italy.
Despite the role of the Catholic Church in critiquing Austrian cinema and advising its viewership between 1934 and 1938, there was no centralized control of film as in Nazi Germany. The lack of stronger government planning and more effective nation building indicate why Austrofascism could not accomplish a lasting national front even if it had found rapprochement with the Left. Unlike its use of imperial era design modes as a national artistic continuity, Austrian narrative cinema had to avoid any overt Habsburg celebration, as this was not necessarily the taste of all wings of the Fatherland Front, and certainly could not be exported to Austria’s most important and also most anti-Habsburg trade partners—Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, France, and Italy. There were no propaganda films in the form of the Prussian heroes of Berlin’s UFA studios that played on the antiprogressive fears of a significant portion of the German population, and as a response to the bitter Versailles treaty in the silent era, and the other economic and political threats to the German nation in early sound. With socially critical Weimar film banned, this heroic cinema became the continuity into a new Nazi industry. Postimperial Austrian cinema also gave Austrofascism a filmic trend beyond the social critical melodrama, literature and operetta based film, and Hollywood style genre—the Viennese Film. These melodramatic, music rich narratives of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Vienna, mostly dealing with the art world and the sacrifice of love for creativity, were romantic enough to fit the retrograde image of a cryptic imperial Austrofascism but so apolitical that they found international popularity and Hollywood would imitate or remake these films throughout the 1930s. Films that would aggressively promote the re-Catholization of Austria, as Dollfuss would have it, did not actually exist beyond ambiguous metaphor and a few melodramas that included nuns or priests in its plot or utilized its sacred musical and visual culture.
The valorization of artists, particularly in music or literature as a form of national pride and projected national identity, was, according to Jochen Schmidt, an “increasingly reactionary genius-religion” 36 since the nineteenth century was popular in Nazi German cinema but not in Austrian productions. Despite the Mozart-Schubert-Johann Strauss cult and a few biopics in silent and sound, these icons along with Empress Elisabeth (“Sissi”) were more strongly deployed in the building of Austrian national identity through the cinema of the early Second Republic.

The Austrofascist propaganda of aesthetics stood little chance of succeeding against the Benjaminian “aesthetization of politics” 37 that Nazism blatantly provided. This is most clear in the attempts to emulate the organized political spectacle for film by the Vienna regime. While the very founding of the Austrofascist concept by Dollfuss and its non-revolutionary programmatic melding of Catholic, corporate, and völkisch elements found some popular sweep and allowed for mass events that echoed the style of Mussolini and Hitler, the too retrograde dominance of the old elite, hindered the mobilization of the youth beyond the core camp. Moreover, the rhetoric utilized at such mass assemblies and festivals were limited by the aesthetics of Christian passion and the martyr’s death, and there was little ecstatic reception to be found in the mourning for a lost empire and the assassination of Dollfuss. Kurt von Schuschnigg clearly distanced the regime from even the imitation of a forward moving revolution when he proclaimed: “Wir suchen nicht die Via Triumphalis, wir sind auch bereit, wenn es sein muss und die Fügung es schickt, ein Stück eines Passionsweges zu überwinden; aber wir werden immer auf der Engelbert Dollfuss Strasse bleiben” (We do not seek the Triumphal Road; if it must be and providence insists, we are also prepared to overcome a portion of the path of suffering; but we will always remain on the Engelbert Dollfuss street). 38 As Austrian historian Robert Kriechbaumer underscores, the intellectual/theological aspects drew no frenzy, and the preference of religious mystery over fascistic mythos failed to develop a class transcendent vision.
The events marking the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Second Ottoman Siege of Vienna, the Türkenbefreiungsfeier in 1933, had set the ideological course that sutured Catholicism and the baroque “Heldenzeitalter” (heroic age) to stress what writer Guido Zernatto, the General Secretary of the Fatherland Front, expressly articulated in 1936: “[Österreichertum] bedeutete immer das Kreuz im Donauraum” (Austrianism always represents the cross in the Danubian world). 39 Austria’s inherent mission was to save Christian tradition in Europe, as it had saved itself through Dollfuss and his martyrdom. It was an attempt to give motion to the ideology through historical/religious/artistic continuity and position itself against the pan-German racist mission of Nazism. This was a goal that could clearly not compete with the materialistic quests of either Socialism or National Socialism.
The two annual events which were meant as an Austrofascist variant of and an aesthetic broadside against the National Socialist party rallies in Nuremberg, present these values in strong visual terms. The Kinderhuldigung im Stadion honored children and consisted of a pageant of Austrian history from the pre-Habsburg Babenberg dynasty to Dollfuss punctuated by intellectual speakers that added gravitas in the form of complex hero worship and historical-mythical interpretations. The Ständehuldigungparade in front of the Vienna City Hall presented the different guilds of the corporate state and also included speeches by prominent leaders of these guilds. Rather than focus on evocations of class obliteration and unity through unflinching nationalistic rhetoric, these mass spectacles were aimed to define Austria’s sophisticated difference from National Socialist Germany and through an identifiable if reductive national identity within Europe. But the aim of the Dollfuss/Schuschnigg regime to mobilize high culture, historical heroics, and Catholic values as the basis of a fanatic patriotism offered neither a clear “Other” to battle (the laws against Socialism, Nazism, and any other party had de jure if not actually restricted these internal menaces) nor any sociopolitical goal aside from static self-preservation through reactionary historical/religious vigilance. As Alfred Pfoser and Gerhard Renner postulate, these nationalist spectacles were not rallies of mass political conversion but events of historical and aesthetic remembrance, which provided visual pleasure but intellectually distanced aspects of the mass and hardly incited nationalist hysteria. 40 The creators of these events were not party hacks or military commanders but individuals such as Rudolf Henz, who had remodeled the Socialist mass events into a Catholic “Sieg des Glaubens” 41 that transferred liturgy and ritual into the aesthetic of the stadium rally, and Clemens Holzmeister, who represented conservative modernism in design beyond the 1930s into the reconstruction of the postwar years.
Pia Janke posits that creating a revered political mission was not just the strategy of the Right. Social Democrats also aestheticized politics in the republican era prior to Austrofascism and staged their secular “Massenfestspiele” as a quasi-mythic celebration that fused lofty mission to concrete party politics. 42 But the Austrofascist versions were expert representations of baroque ideology—in their “theatrics and totalism.” 43 The new “Massenfestspiele” were understood to be the vehicle for the Austrian Ideology of Austrofascism, and would act, in the way of the Catholic Mass, as a sanctification of the political message and a communion for its participants and spectators. “Heil Österreich!” and Österreich über alles, wenn es nur will!” (Austria above all, if it only wishes so) or “weil wir es wollen!” (because we want it so) 44 were the fascist calls in Austria, which hoped to create an image of an “aggressive-militant” state that embraced its mission and would lead it across Central Europe, even as a representation of the German. 45 Regardless of the historical, memorial, or celebratory subject of the Austrian “Massenfestspiele,” aspects from the Catholic Mass were always present and liturgical elements were integrated into the whole. Its ritualism evolved from the Catholic Mass, rather than from the celebration of nation or race as in Italy and Germany. The ever-present action of marching, understood by Klaus Vondung as an essential basis of all political-mystical celebration in National Socialism 46 —which enacts the spreading of the movement, the trampling of opponents, and its uniformity—was equally important under Austrofascism but for a wholly different aspect of the ritual. Holiday processions always indicated the “Catholic presence on the streets” and the linkage of such celebration with Catholic politicians. 47 Austrofascist marches and demonstrations drew directly on the Catholic Mass processionals and the movement of the priest to his altar and thus equate the national/political event with an expanded religious expression.
Even the music and theater festivals in Vienna—the Salzburg and Mariazell festivals, and others that briefly sprouted across Austria during this era—were anchored in Catholic mysticism. Rudolf Henz, who designed many of these events and theorized them, found that the very renewal of Austrian arts under Austrofascism emerged from a mass and open devotion to the liturgy, which sparked a positive creativity. National Socialism modeled elements of its self-presentation and ritualization not only after abstracted elements of the Catholic Mass of Hitler’s own experiences (the ceremonious touching of the “Blood Flag” used in the failed 1923 Putsch as shown in Triumph des Willens for example), but after Christian liturgy as well—from Protestant tradition. 48 The mysticism in National Socialist events stemmed from the deification of Hitler and by association the superiority of German culture through the purity of the blood and race, which is emphasized in Triumph des Willens by Riefenstahl’s cutting repeatedly between the singular figure of the leader and the jubilant masses. Austrofascist mass presentations ranging from art and cultural celebrations, to specific political holidays and actual religious festivals, represented a force beyond the leader. It was the call to God, the mass learning of the liturgical power and spiritual re-conversion, and most importantly the “Weihung” or consecration, which dominated every event. In essence, there was no such thing as a secular festival or celebration under Austrofascism. Following Dollfuss’s assassination and rise of a cult around his consecration as “Heldenkanzler” (Heroic Chancellor) and “Märtyrerkanzler” (Martyr Chancellor), his sacrifice for Austria was equated with Christ’s sacrifice for humanity, and the celebration of him brought out more religious connotation, including memorialization of him as a prayer worthy saint-like figure across Austria, and validated the continuation of his political direction. 49
An even stronger dilution of mythos building comes from the collision of the attempts at Austrofascist spectacle, particularly as it was recorded by film, and the modernist aesthetic that nominally recalled Austria’s artistic legacy and positioned it against Nazism but toward a Hollywood-influenced internationalism. Thus, the recording of such mass events for newsreel and documentary appear simultaneously spectacle intent and spectacle-phobic. The failure of the poorly made Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally film of 1933, demonstrated that even with a pseudo-revolutionary ideology, transference of such events to the vocabulary of cinema was not a natural and had to be theorized and choreographed. Without a Leni Riefenstahl or the desire to employ such a talent, Austrofascist propaganda on film was shot as patriotic documentary rather than as totalistic nationalist epiphany. Its spectacle events were certainly imitative of Italian and German models, but its lack of ideological/revolutionary thrust and without the use of the lessons of cinematic manipulative flair that came to Nazism from the study of Eisenstein, were recorded as scenes of curiosity rather than of passion, and of banality rather than visually inspiring mass choreography. These faschistoid spectacles were also strongly counterinfluenced by nonmilitary Catholic celebration and the outmoded baroque flourishes of Austro-Hungarian imperial parade.
The filming of these events was loyal to three aesthetic/philosophic concepts: realism that stemmed from early socially critical Austrian film, the capturing of a diversity that was respectful of the polyglot nature of the past, and the emphasis of a multicultural (and a seemingly fresh multiregional) nature of the present. It was the Hofmannsthalian archaic modernism that encouraged an elite individualism and the recasting of the past to frame an evolutionary rather than revolutionary present. 50
While National Socialist newsreels exhorted the nation-altering drama and might of the New Order and cloaked it in a history that it infiltrated and co-opted with Wagnerian music and old German script, Austrian newsreels recorded what appeared to be nonuniform even in a uniformed official gathering. An essential aspect of Austrofascist propaganda in the newsreel-related culture films was the rediscovery and emphasis on the western and Alpine regions of Austria. This territory, which had been of minor importance in the sprawl of the monarchy but now shifted the geocultural identity of the small nation to the rural Alpine and propaganda film, attempted to ameliorate the differential between cosmopolitan Vienna and the rural rest of the new country. Max Reinhardt and Hugo von Hofmannsthal had desired just that in creating the Salzburg Festival in 1920, which was intended to refocus Austria as a land of high culture internationally but also shift it beyond Vienna and the old Mitteleuropean axis of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest into western Austria, thereby re-coordinating the cultural dimension of the Kulturnation . 51 This focus on rural culture in documentary film coincided with the rare Heimatfilm , which in the Austrian version of the genre emphasized Catholic values in the rural world to distance it from the völkisch /racist ideas of National Socialism.
Kriechbaumer considers that the “imitation fascist” character of the Austrian one-party Fatherland Front actually blocked the secular elan vital of true fascist irrationalism. The corporate structure of the state was never accomplished, nor was it approved of by the traditional Catholic organizations and the Bishops, which after 1934 stood fast against the import of Italian fascist ideas (favored by Dollfuss) that might contradict the specific Austrian concepts and traditions. What was favored was a Catholicized youth, not a (Austro-)fascist one. This had none of the attraction of the activist youth movements in either Italy or Germany. 52
All the more difficult was the translation of the Austrofascist mass festivals and events into cinematic imagery that would not only attract the viewer but move them to be part of the mass; to identify with this Austria as opposed to any other in the way Nazi propaganda framed Germany as the sole and superior concept for the truly German. Despite the artistic, musical, theatrical aspects that made the events colorful, they nevertheless supported the “militia Christi” 53 rather than a militarized youth, and the “transcendence” of Austria was a difficult cinematic trope to create and to hail victorious over great loss of the war, of the empire, of world power, of leadership in Central Europe, and of the German culture. The very man that represented Austrian rebirth may have become a martyr to Nazism, but it was also declared that “ein toter führt uns an” (a dead person leads us). His movement could not create a front to represent all Austrians, at least not in this iteration, and in the end, it would all seem too bourgeois and vulnerable when compared to the images of the transformed postbourgeois warrior cadres of the two neighboring fascisms. The proof for this is to be found in Selenophon’s presentation of the regime’s program for sending poor, urban-based children on vacations into nature in Kinderferienwerk der Vaterländische Front/Children Vacation Action of the Fatherland Front (Austria 1937), which disappointed the Ministry of Education. The documentary Der Vaterländische Front / The Fatherland Front (Austria 1938), a grandiose and supposedly encouraging summation of the regime ironically released in the year of the annexation, was deemed an improvement, but it was still “too theoretical and unengaging.” 54 Aside from poor financial planning and constant infighting that hampered the production quality of the newsreel and its documentary wing, 55 the religious mystery overshadowing the fascist political mythos was best presented in the social metaphors of narrative film and not in documentary or the newsreel. The unexpected national successes of the few Catholic-based entertainment films like Singende Jugend/An Orphan Boy of Vienna, Ernte aka Die Julika/Harvest and Der Pfarrer von Kirchfeld/The Pastor of Kirchfeld demonstrated they were able to create an emotional connection to personifications of the faith, and to social critical plots that manipulated emotion through storytelling and resolution based in binaries of good and evil—with Catholicism victorious. Even new productions of classic Viennese operetta, coproduced by Germany, such as Czech/Austrian director Carl Lamac’s Im Weissen Rössl/At the White Horse Inn (Austria/Germany 1935) was judged by the Ministry of Education as contributing more potential tourist interest and international sympathy for Austria than the official “culture film.” 56 The semiofficial Der gute Film , which was to encourage the viewing of such regime-based (Selenophon) reportage, agreed.
The logo of Österreich in Bild und Ton waged its own ideological war against Germany’s UFA studio produced newsreel counterpart, although neither used the state emblems of the Kruckenkreuz or the Swastika. 57 The German image of the unchanged Bauhaus-inspired UFA letters hovering above the planet while throwing a dark shadow on the revolving earth signified continuity with the importance of German film internationally in the 1920s as it continued to “project” global involvement and dominance. The Austrian logo, however, is an almost metaphysical/spiritual inversion of this, which concedes Austria’s smallness but enforces its great historical legacy. It features the name Österreich in small white modern lettering forming the top half of a circle closed on the bottom half with the words in Bild und Ton . What is most striking is that two thirds of the logo area is made up of a large shadow of the name Österreich thrown off by the white lettering into a black, almost expressionist graphic. Light rays resembling breaking sunlight in baroque paintings appear behind and around the name Österreich , which suggest a religious enlightenment symbol. Its source is the core of the original lettering circle, and the large almost menacingly distorted shadow generated by the name suggests that Austria still has a far-reaching and dominant projection of itself and is perhaps a formidable shadow of the lost Empire. Yet even this obvious symbolic translation of transcendental greatness seems ghostly. Österreich as emblem consists of the elements of modernity, modesty, Christian enlightenment, and an almost overwhelming reach that is both intangible and mystical.

At the annexation, Austria’s official sound film process, Selenophon, which had served as a production company for projects beyond Österreich in Bild und Ton was shut down. Nazi propaganda newsreels and narrative films banned in Austria replaced Austrian films at cinemas and there was reported jubilation by Austrian Nazis that celebrated the visual “truth” that had been forbidden for so long. 58 Many of the immediate films however, simply showed older edited footage of celebrating Austrofascist cadres and sympathizers and labeled them Nazis. The Reichsfilmkammer (Reich’s Film Chamber) started its racial “cleansing” and political Gleichschaltung of all things cinema, from production and distribution firms, studio officials, and theater owners, to talent nearly immediately at the announcement of the annexation. The “Aryanization” of Austrian productions bound for the German market had long ago created a reliable core, which would now be called to participate in the National Socialist film role of German Vienna. Also replaced after March 13, 1938, was the near expressionist graphics that heralded the Österreich in Bild und Ton newsreel presentations. It was replaced by a curiously art deco image of a medieval knight guarding the Alps, as representative of the German “Gau” Ostmark or medieval district designation for the province of the former Austria, and bearing the temporary title of Ostmark Wochenschau (Eastern March Newsreel) in Fraktur German script. Efforts by Austrofascist newsreels and culture film to highlight the provinces of Austria beyond Vienna now shifted to the very provincialization of Austria in the Reich and in the newly annexed German cinematic vocabulary. The newsreel logo symbolizing Austria through an abstract emblem evoking a baroque image of transcendence was replaced by a different historical representation: the image of a faceless warrior. 59
1. Weltausstellung Paris 1937 .
2. Three weeks after Dollfuss suspended parliament and made his Christian-Social Party based Fatherland Front the ideology of the one-party state. ÖSTA, AdR, MRP, No. 863, March 31, 1933. See also Moritz et al., Kampfzone Kino , 296.
3. ÖSTA, BMU “Rundschreiben des BMU,” 24. April 1936, ZL.:1442/I6a/1936.
4. “Der 1. Mai in Wien,” Österreich in Bild und Ton 48a and 48b, 1934.
5. Hoffmann, “Rhythmus, Rhythmus, Rhythmus!” 169–91.
6. Moritz et al., Kampfzone Kino , 302.
7. Venus: “Vom Funk zum Rundfunk,” 379–415 and “ Von der RAVAG zum Reichssender Wien ,” 597–626.
8. Published in the papal encyclical Quadragesimo anno . See Kriechbaumer, Ein Vaterländisches Bilderbuch , 67.
9. Barbara Feller and Erich Bernard quoted in Suttner, Das schwarze Wien , 106.
10. Suttner, Das schwarze Wien , 74–80.
11. Ibid., 193–201.
12. Ibid., 107.
13. Achleitner, “Gibt es eine austrofaschistische Architektur?” 590.
14. Achleitner considers it a “masterly balance act between fascistic pathos and the Viennese aesthetic.” Ibid., 592.
15. Ibid.
16. Kassal-Mikula, “Architektur,” 180–83.
17. Ibid., 190–91.
18. See Ellenbogen, Gigantische Visionen , 33–42.

19. Prokop, Rudolf Perco , 85–89; Kassal-Mikula, “Architektur,” 286–87.
20. Prokop, Rudolf Perco , 285–90; Kassal-Mikula, “Architektur,” 320–21.
21. Ellenbogen, Gigantische Visionen , 58.
22. Weyr, The Setting of the Pearl , 87.
23. Ibid., 88.
24. See also Chapter 4 and the “Baroque film” of Willi Forst.
25. Hofmannsthal, “Ersatz für Träume,” 143.
26. Gottfried, “Hugo von Hofmannsthal,” 6.
27. See Kern, Zur Gedankenwelt .
28. Hofmannsthal, “Das Schriftum als Geistiger Raum der Nation,” 24–41. See also Gottfried, “Hugo von Hofmannsthal.”
29. Oksiloff, “Archaic Modernism,” 145.
30. Moritz et al., Kampfzone Kino , 304.
31. An example is “Regierung schafft Arbeit. Bau der Grossglockner-Strasse,” Österreich in Bild und Ton 10b 1933. See chapter 5 on how propaganda on such construction work figured in entertainment cinema narratives.
32. “Der Vizekanzler besucht das Wiener Heim der Mutterschutzwerkes der Vaterländischen Front.” Österreich in Bild und Ton , 10b, 1933.
33. “Austria: Death for Freedom.” Time , August 6, 1934.,9171,747609-5,00.html
34. Kriechbaumer, Ein Vaterländisches Bilderbuch , 74.
35. Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes.
36. Schmidt, Die Geschichte des Genie-Gedankens , 2:202.
37. Benjamin, “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit,” 42.
38. Kriechbaumer, Ein Vaterländisches Bilderbuch , 73.
39. Ibid., 53.
40. Pfoser and Renner, “Ein Toter führt uns an!” 350–51.
41. Meaning “Victory of Faith.” I refer here to the 1933 Nazi Party documentary of the same name that focuses on quite a different subject of worship.
42. Janke, Politische Massenfestspiele in Österreich , 420.
43. Michael P. Steinberg quoted in Ibid., 418.
44. The last variant that insists on aggressive national action was Prince Starhemberg’s reworking of the original motto during his speech at the 1935 remembrance of Dollfuss’s martyrdom which moved from a memorial into a call to arms and the motto, the “Schlachtruf Dollfuss” (Dollfuss’s battle cry), in an emulation of the mobilization of the masses in Nazi German rallies and propaganda film. See Janke, Politische Massenfestspiele in Österreich 334–35.
45. Ibid., 415.
46. Vondung, Magie und Manipulation , 155.
47. Ernst Hanisch quoted in Janke, Politische Massenfestspiele in Österreich , 403.
48. Vondung, Magie und Manipulation , 6.
49. Janke, Politische Massenfestspiele in Österreich , 333.
50. For an in-depth discussion of this concept in the author’s literature, see Oksiloff, “Archaic Modernism.”
51. For a detailed analysis of the role of Viennese festivals, Social Democratic politics and specific artistic styles in the creation of the Salzburg event, and its comparison as cultural propaganda to German festivals, see Burri, “Austrian Festival Missions after 1918.”
52. Kriechbaumer, Ein Vaterländisches Bilderbuch , 72–73.
53. Ibid., 71.

54. ÖSTA, BMU, “Filmbegutachtung Kinderferienwerk der Vaterländischen Front ,” March 26, 1938, Gz 42082/VB; ÖSTA, BMU, “Filmbegutachtung Die Vaterländische Front ,” March 28, 1938. See also Moritz, et al., Kampfzone Kino , 304–5.
55. Achenbach and Moser, Österreich in Bild und Ton , 88.
56. ÖSTA, BMU “Filmbegutachtung Im Weissen Rössl ,” December 6, 1935, GZ. 40.828/VB.
57. Dollfuss chose the crusader knight’s Kruckenkreuz to represent authoritarian Austria as the “better” Christian German state vis-à-vis Nazi Germany’s pagan Hakenkreuz or Swastika. Nevertheless, the Fatherland Front’s slogan, “Österreich erwache!” (Austria awake!) clearly echoed the sentiments of the Nazi German “Deutschland erwache!” (Germany awake!). See Kriechbaumer, Österreich! Und Front Heil! 144.
58. Moritz, et al., Kampfzone Kino , 415.
59. Ibid., 416.
Two Film Industries and the Jewish Filmmaker’s Conundrum
While mainstream Viennese production companies bowed to Germany’s racial dictates for the sake of export after 1933, the aforementioned Wiener-Film/Morawsky was only the first of several new Austrian companies that were nondependent on Germany for investment or distribution, rejected Nazi racial guidelines, and sidestepped Austrian Nazis that assisted German infiltration by creating the independent or later known as the transnational Emigrantenfilm. The qualified success of this initiative allows us to see how Nazism established itself gradually and to identify sites where clear breaks exist between Austria and Germany in their cultural spheres.
This chapter supports that claim through specific test cases that attest to the curious state of Jewish film talent who tolerated or even supported the Austrian Austrofascist regime as filmmakers but who were essentially excluded from the state’s Catholic identification. How did they justify their productivity, and what sort of films did they create? Was this business as usual regarding the historical condition of Jewish assimilation in Catholic Austria-Hungary (aside from openly antisemitic Nationalist cadres) and in Red Vienna, or did the now “illegal” Nazi sympathetic population undermining the Austrofascist film industry (along with every other market sector) provide a new set of prejudicial circumstances? Was there indeed more marginalization for Jewish artists in Dollfuss’s attempted re-Catholicization of Austria, or was their independent Austrian film welcome, and did the large segment of a politically unrepresented population (primarily the Left) provide for a shadow sociocultural equilibrium? These are important entry points into any narrative that attempts to make claims about assimilation or marginalization of Jewish talent within Austria’s culture industries, and possibly also about their status within the Austrian state.
The line of evolution for Austrian antisemitism in the culture industries has more twists than the standard political accounts acknowledge. For example, Chancellor Dollfuss included the law on freedom of religion from the former republican constitution in the new authoritarian/corporate state basic law, which may be considered a significant deviation from the political antisemitism of nineteenth century Vienna populist mayor Karl Lueger, the parent of Dollfuss’s postimperial Christian Social Party, which was a position related to the latent antisemitism of Catholicism at that time. Any charges of “antisemitism” have to account for these deviations. Thus while Dollfuss aimed his Fatherland Front movement at a re-Catholization of the Austrian state, the relationship and agreements between the Israelite Kultusgemeinde (the official Jewish Religious Community) remained unaltered on a national level and with regard to Viennese districts, where the Social Democratic mandates had been revoked. The definition of citizens by religion was actually more liberal and tolerant than by their political identities.
This strategy regarding the Jewish relationship with what was now no longer the Republic of Austria but the Austrian corporate state sent paradoxical political messages to the government and to popular politics. The first and most important of these messages, from Dollfuss’s point of view, was that given the image of Austria as the better, Christian-German state, any changes prejudicial to the Jewish population would be seen as an agreement with or even a concession to Nazi Germany. The result was an attempt at a reform of Austria’s body politic that was not necessarily officially racialized, even as it moved decisively to the Right (to the Black organizations). Despite state censorship and banning of political parties, official Jewish organizations thus openly sided with the new corporate state and were free to conduct elections in the Vienna Kultusgemeinde , which continued to pit bourgeois assimilationists against the Austrian Zionists. 1
The obvious fact that Jewish organizations embraced the concessions given to them in a state that did not even see itself as led by a single party, as Germany did, but the representation of a Catholic “no-party” pseudo-national front, was, of course, the proverbial choice between the lesser of the two evils. Austrofascism, which had placed four Jewish representatives in important government positions, seemed almost utopian to the victims of Nazi German racist policy. 2 As a move toward creating a new Austrian identity in this political climate, it was indeed a progressive tactic, given that the Christian Social party had positioned itself against Jews since the founding of the First Republic in 1919 on the basis that they were heavily represented in the Social Democratic party and the far Left. The fact remains, however, that in suppressing the Social Democrats, many social and political imperatives favored by Jewish voters were also suppressed. Nonetheless, this situation may help explain why so much German-Jewish talent tried first to move to Austria, rather than fleeing Central Europe completely.
Following Dollfuss’s assassination, Chancellor Schuschnigg continued this relationship with the Jewish population, which was clearly identified: he had to deal with increased Nazi German propaganda that ridiculed Austria for its “fear” of the Jews and thus its lack of action against them. Nonetheless, he rejected any suggestion that the Austrofascist state had followed Nazi racist ideology and often remarking that Jews “voll anerkannt seien” (are completely recognized). 3 Such statements were even backed up by concrete actions. For instance, sale of the antisemitic Nazi German publication, Der Stürmer , which was also an organ for the illegal National Socialists in Austria, was forbidden, and the government repeatedly confiscated issues. Nevertheless, antisemitic statements in the press remained without censure. Resisting overt escalation of antisemitic views by no means meant that antisemitism in Austria had been eradicated.
Kurt von Schuschnigg’s policies as successor to Dollfuss were clearly based on the pragmatic situation of his nation, which could not be gleichgeschaltet (coordinated) as Germany was. The government could not control every statement or public display of antisemitism (or any other political ideology) because it would suggest that this group was favored or protected and it would then be at odds with the state’s policy against all political parties and nongovernmental representational organizations. 4 Indeed, the corporate state’s ambivalence in not wishing to deal with the Jews as a political influence group was helpful to its desired repression of Austromarxism (representatives were also Jewish), because it could move politically against them without running up against charges of racism or religious discrimination.
To be sure, Schuschnigg’s defense of Jewish quasi-political ethnic organizations and the ambivalent attitude toward antisemitism resulted in continued involvement of Germany in Austria’s internal situation with criticism and covert subversion through Austrian Nazi cells. The heightened attention given to antisemitism in Germany since 1933 by the corporate Austrian state also underscored the latent antisemitism in some wings of the Fatherland Front and in the Catholic Church. While members of these groups distanced themselves from overt Nazi racism, the so-called “traditional” antisemitic attitude took on a curious, almost Austrian nationalistic flavor. It was said that one did not need to be a National Socialist to be an antisemite, and that the pragmatic antisemitism (referring to Lueger) was somehow worthier than the radical Nazi German version. Playing on Dollfuss’s original idea of Austria as the better Germany, the idea of being a better antisemite also circulated the ideological landscape.
One of the most infamous cases was the position of Austrian author Richard von Schaukal, whose rejection of Socialism and Jewish influence in German culture in his publications since the end of the First World War had made him seem sympathetic to reactionary German politics and even National Socialism. However, upon Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, Schaukal’s advocacy of an independent Austria and the nascent nationalism of the “Austrian Idea,” propagated by the conservative-elitist writer and playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who was of Jewish extraction, made him persona non grata in Germany. Representing the extreme rightwing of the Christian Social Party, Schaukal embraced the political Catholicism of Dollfuss and found value in antisemitism, but rejected the German nation concept that would include Austria in favor of a nuanced definition of Austrian “difference” from Germany based in history (Habsburg imperialism) rather than race and multiculturalism (Austrians as ethnically Germanic, Magyar, Latin, and Slavic and linguistically/culturally influenced by France). Schaukal understood himself as the forerunner of what he called “Dolfussismus,” and his intention to geopolitically and culturally separate the Austrians from the Germans and propagate a restoration of the monarchy made him a natural ally of the corporate state’s ideology of an independent Austrian mission in Central Europe. Although his antisemitism distanced him from one wing of the Fatherland Front government, and his ardent monarchism distanced him from another, he was able to remain an active contributor to Christliche Ständestaat (Christian Corporate State), a publication loyal to the regime, while being damned by the German press, which also manipulated a “German-Austrian” (illegal Austrian Nazis) front against him. The ultimate irony in the panoply of Schaukal’s receptions is the commentary by Jewish Austrian writer, Joseph Roth, who had abandoned his early Marxism to become a monarchist and subsequently criticized Schuschnigg regime in 1937 for not actively supporting Schaukal as “der eminentisten Österreichischen, katholischen Dichter” (the most eminent Austrian Catholic writer) for his literary efforts in the cause of Austria and against German propaganda. 5 While obviously arguable, the comment suggests the limits between the political, the religious, and the racial definitions of individuals in this Austrian nation qua work in progress.
Certain nonpolitical professional societies, such as the “Verband deutsch-arischer Rechtsanwälte” (The Association of German-Aryan Lawyers) and the “Vereinigung christlich-deutscher Ärzte” (The Union of Christian-German Physicians), did espouse a Nazi racist policy. Nevertheless, these radicalized steps against the Jewish population took on their own ambiguous attitudes toward Germany and Nazism itself. Vienna’s Mayor Schmitz advocated the primary employment of young doctors from the Cartell-Verband, the Catholic student organizations, in order to make Vienna’s hospitals more Christian, while simultaneously suggesting a more Austrofascist policy in public schools whereby Catholics would be separated from both Jews and Protestant Germans. By 1937, calls of “Christen, kauft bei Christen” (Christians buy from Christians) demonstrated how thin the line between German racist policies and Austrian toleration had become the year before the German annexation. 6
On the other hand, Jewish sport associations in Austria had not been affected by Austrofascism. The Austrian Olympic Committee selected eight Jewish athletes as part of the national team to be sent to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. All but two refused to go on the basis of boycott of the Olympics by the Jewish athletic Maccabi World Organization. While weightlifter Robert Fein won a gold medal, Jewish athletes refusing to represent Austria were stripped of their national medals and forbidden to participate for the term of their lives. This penalty was then changed to a ban of only two years, due to massive international protests. 7
The question of an integration of Jewish youth into the Austrian Jungvolk (the Catholic equivalent in some manner to the Hitler Youth) remained unsettled, despite Schuschnigg’s pressure in favor of it. Conversion to Catholicism had suddenly risen from around 993 in 1932 to a staggering 32,943 conversions in 1934, the first year of the Dollfuss regime, which also recorded the lowest figure for those leaving the church (1,795 versus 28,837 in 1927). Such numbers again suggest a significant public willingness to make the Fatherland Front and even the “re-Catholization” of Austria a force against both the Left and Nazism, and to locate a nascent Austrian nationalism in this definition of Austria as the Catholic “German” land.
But we must remember that this cultural platform was one of spirituality, nostalgia, and reaction, which, even with the reorganization of the state along the lines of Mussolini’s corporate structure, never completely succeeded, particularly in the later more bourgeois conservative state of Schuschnigg, who considered a rapprochement with the Social Democrats for the sake of creating a true national front against Nazism. The idea “im Ramen des kleinen Österreichs das Reich Christi und das Königtum Christi wieder aufzurichten” (to again establish within the borders of the small Austria a Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Christ) 8 could not compete as a lofty political goal for the nation with the rhetoric of “progressive” materialist/expansionist goals of Nazism, particularly as it had appeared to solve economic and social problems in its first few years of power. Such attempts at beating National Socialism in Austria by utilizing their tactics, as Dollfuss advised, and even later the sentiment “Wir können den Nationalsozialismus in Österreich schlagen, in dem wir ihn ‘überhitlern’” (We can beat National Socialism in Austria by out-“Hitler-ing” it), 9 only give credence to historians who believe that Austrofascism was a nearsighted preparation for Nazism.
Comparisons, however, again enlighten us as to what was at stake pragmatically. In Austria, there were patriotic Jewish movements similar to those that had been apparent in the German Weimar Republic. Most of these grew within groups of politically conservative, decorated war veterans and ennobled families. They also attempted to meld with the authoritarian state and its Catholic heart. Dr. Robert Pollak-Rudin, a Jewish electrical engineer whose successful manufacturer and philanthropist father had been ennobled without conversion to Christianity as “Ritter von (Knight of) Rudin” in 1869, led a Jewish-Legitimist group that had achieved some popular notice beginning in 1935, the year in which he committed his monarchist platform to record in a speech entitled “An Österreichs Juden!” (To Austria’s Jews). Rudin equates the Jewish cultural history as sympathetic and part of an Austrian reaction to socialist republicanism and racist fascism:
The old Jewish State was a theocracy, a kingdom under God’s guidance, and it is remarkable that the new Austrian constitution of 1 May 1934 renews the Kingdom of David, espousing that all law, even regarding that of the ruler, comes from God. . . . While other states more or less were national states and since the state feeling could only be given to their populations from the concept of the nation, the Austrian concept of the Emperor was the idea of the sociability of peoples, states, and communities having equal rights, held together for the mutual benefit through the legitimacy of the House of Austria. . . . We Jews . . . full of self-confidence, we legitimistic Jews must pronounce ourselves for ourselves, for Judaism as the oldest tradition of a community bound by fate, and, like all genuine Austrians, we pronounce ourselves without any reserve for the homeland and for the legitimate embodiment of its state concept, the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine, and its head, the Emperor Otto of Austria. 10
Beyond underscoring Viennese cosmopolitanism, Rudin’s reduction of the essence of the Austrian state as monarchist (called “legitimist” in support of the imperial heir Archduke Otto) rather than nationalist or Catholic, was perhaps the single most harmonious ideological connection between Judaism and late Austrofascism that could be made. The suggestion of a legitimist Austrian state also found favor with Schuschnigg, who had long considered the idea of Habsburg restoration. He was not the only political leader that felt Austrian monarchy might alter the scenario of Austria’s vulnerability significantly.
Mussolini’s pre-Berlin-Rome Axis notion of reestablishing Austria as a kingdom under the Rightist Heimwehr militia leader and brief Vice-Chancellor, Prince Rüdiger von Starhemberg, had been meant as a compromise in order to avoid open conflict with France and Eastern European nations that threatened armed conflict should the Habsburgs be restored. Archduke Otto (later Dr. Otto von Habsburg), whose intention to take control of the Austrian government in its final days in 1938 and to create a true national front and appeal internationally against the annexation threat from Germany, was ultimately resisted by Schuschnigg. Yet, Hitler so feared that a Habsburg coup would dash his strategy for Nazism in Central Europe that he named his Austrian invasion plans “Operation Otto.”
The reception of Austria as a haven for Jews and German emigres in the creative sector was perhaps more cynical. The opportunity to work relative freely in the arts, particularly in the divided film industry was a momentary respite for most Jewish arts professionals. Many had already decided on Paris, Prague, London, or Hollywood as their ultimate goals, while others hoped that Vienna’s industry would not be significantly infiltrated by racism and Nazi subversion and that its filmmaking would continue spark international interest. It was perhaps more obvious to the creators of fiction or alternative reality that a state that sought to re-Catholicize itself in the manner of Germany’s enforced Gleichschaltung (total switching over) to National Socialism could have no real desire to support a Jewish population, other than for the sake of proving it was not Nazi Germany. The reassurance came with the fact that Austrofascism had always defined itself more by what it was not than by what it could offer.
Nonetheless, the situation evolved within Austria until the Anschluss. Music, literature, architecture, and the visual arts did not have to forgo artistic freedom for the sake of an antimodern, racist artistic ideology as in Germany. But with growing antisemitism fueled by both the repressed Austrian Nazis and German infiltration, Jews that assimilated into and even contributed to the Catholic culture of the First Republic became less “inside” than they might well have been or yet become. Lisa Silverman’s example of the functional Jewish involvement in the Catholic-baroque ideology of the Salzburg Festival exemplifies how these hopes were implemented in practice: the interest in and affinity of Catholic culture by Austrian artists, regardless of personal loyalties to Judaism (as in the case of Franz Werfel) is what enabled Jewish filmmakers careers in film under Austrofascist political Catholicism. Directors such as Max Neufeld, Richard Oswald, Fritz Schulz, Hermann Kosterlitz, and other Jewish, “non-Aryan” (or Jewish associated/anti-Nazis as in the case of Louise Kolm-Fleck) film talents were able to prove, for a short time and in contradistinction to the mainstream directors such as Willi Forst, Geza von Bolvary, Werner Hochbaum, and others, how “mainstream” and even pro-Catholic their work was or could be.

Had such significant filmmakers been allowed to contribute to the mainstream film industry, it would have possibly replicated the humanist political Catholic cinematic quality that Michael Steinberg considers was the original goal for the Catholic-Jewish mix at the Salzburg Festival: “a theater of Catholic pageantry imbued with a more progressive, enlightened nationalism of inclusion,” a “nationalist cosmopolitanism.” One can certainly perceive the elements that try to “reconstitute and represent the present . . . in the image of a golden past” 11 in the Viennese Film, the music film, and the costume melodrama created by mostly Austrian filmmakers in the mainstream industry. We can also witness the progressive and cosmopolitan qualities in such “visiting” directors as Paul Fejos, Werner Hochbaum, and Erich Engel, as well as, of course, across established and nascent genres (including early screwball comedy and proto-film noir) of the truly cosmopolitan/transcultural independent/Emigrantenfilm.
Here we see how Nazi ideology grew within an established art industry. The German market insistence on only “Aryan” imports from Austria (and only from there) has little to do with the Nazi intent to unite “Germans” across two states under a racial consciousness. It was hardly problematic to remove the Jewish or otherwise unwanted names from the credits of the films in the early years of Nazi German cinema censorship of Austrian imports. But the forced division of Jewish from the non-Jewish film talents was a crucial step to smash the potential of Austrian cinema (financially, socially, culturally, and internationally) in a country that had, despite its antisemitism, pan-Germans, and the Austrian Nazi Party, fostered Jewish talents in relation to Catholic culture (literature, music, theater, and the Salzburg Festival). Without this en/forced division, a unified Austrian film industry utilizing the sum of its substantial talents would have managed to maintain a successful independent dominant cinema, and the second Emigrantenfilm industry, an artificially constructed cinema of Jewish and “foreign” talents (including Germans), would not have been needed. If it had still emerged, it would have demonstrated an additional divergence of genre and style that could not be scapegoated as degenerate or alien to the ideals of the mainstream population.
Recall that the first and most important target for Dollfuss in Austrian film industry was the Social Democratic control of the cinemas through the organization KIBA, which he promptly disbanded and transferred its holdings to the city of Vienna. This was followed by the unification of all filmmakers and talents under an umbrella organization, the creation of a specific Austrian newsreel production, and the development of the Institut für Filmkultur , which included the Catholic Church in its review publication, Der gute Film . Lastly and most importantly, the Austrian Film Conference was established as the government’s control organization regarding policy for cooperation with other film industries, particularly Nazi Germany; it emphasized an independent, Austrian quality for its productions. Unlike Goebbels’ rebirth of the German cinema under Nazism, then, Austria did not nationalize the studios, nor did it precensor scripts or favor filmmakers and talent. It rejected racial dictates and even managed to support a small part of its film industry through independent financing.
Unfortunately, Germany had invested in many Austrian production companies before 1933, and these partnerships became the first route for Nazi infiltration in Austrian cinema and for its eventual overturn. Illegal Nazi party members and Nazi sympathizers in Austria proved to be equally helpful in alerting Berlin regarding the racial status of those among Austria’s film talent who were also employed in Germany’s motion picture industry and vice versa. Germany had placed strict quotas on the importation of Austrian film, and with Germany as Austria’s largest film market, the Nazi-manipulated import conditions demanded and received compliance from Austrian film producers to meet German racial regulations for continued distribution by 1935. Jewish talent was forbidden in these exports, cutting the market for the racially blended films produced with funds from outside Germany. By the following year, even stricter regulations were put in place for the exchange of Austrian and German film, which favored Austrian preproduction censorship for films intended to be exported to the Reich and the use of Austria’s “Aryan” film stars in both German film and Austrian mainstream productions.
While this tactic succeeded in shutting out Jewish and other talent in mainstream Austrian film production, it could not completely infiltrate larger production sectors of the Austrian industry, particularly as Austrian cinema, unlike Nazi German cinema, had not been nationalized. Agreements between Austrian production companies and German investors that had been made before 1933 remained in place, which often became an uncomfortable partnership after the Nazi takeover of Germany. This was, for example, the case with the Pilzer Group within the Tobis-Sascha Studios. To deal with the economic failure brought on by the 1929 Stock Market Crash in the United States, the languishing Austrian economic situation, and the costly retooling for sound production, the Jewish Pilzer Brothers (a family group headed by Oskar Pilzer) controlled Sascha-Filmindustrie (the successor company running Sascha Kolowrat’s Sievering studio following his death in 1927) and they went into willing partnership with the German Tobis-Tonbild-Syndikat in 1931, two years before Hitler assumed the role of chancellor and before the racial laws regarding film would be mandated. The later nationalized German partner, Tobis-Tonbild, attempted to gain complete control of the now Tobis-Sascha studio in 1934 but was blocked by the Austrian government. Unwilling to tolerate this partnership under these terms that obviated German control, the German Reichsfilmkammer (RFK) blocked the transfer of Austrian film distribution and licensing payments by 1936, which was meant to strangle the Austrian industry thereafter if negotiations were not forthcoming. They ultimately were, and the resolution of this brinkmanship was deflected by a sham “secret” agreement in which both states would refrain from propaganda productions that would be seen as insulting or injurious to the other. 12
Nevertheless, this German takeover attempt was never a complete one but only made Austrian production dependent upon German approval for any international agreements. Additionally, German blockage of the transfer of earnings for distribution and licensing would be removed; the currency would be transferred to Austria but earmarked for compulsory investment in German talent and goods. The Austrian film industry rejected this provision. The German offer to end the blockade in late 1936 in response to a proposed Vienna-Hollywood coproduction agreement 13 was finally achieved at the cost of what the Germans had striven for since 1933—the removal of the “non-Aryan” Pilzer Group from Tobis-Sascha—and the cancellation of the pre-Nazi contract. With the release of earnings to the Austrian industry, the Nazi German Reichsfilmkammer in 1937 again invited “Aryan” Austrian filmmakers to produce in Germany with German talent and support and allowed them to maintain Austrian ownership of the film. This tactic ultimately allowed essentially German coproductions to be marketed as Austrian in countries that boycotted trade with Nazi Germany, and it increased investment in German-based productions at the cost of weakening the production-investment base in Austria. In other words, Nazi Germany traded a loophole in contracts that had benefited Austria into one that profited Germany even more.
Loopholes in the Aryanization of Austrian film did, however, create anomalies. Walter Reisch, who had created the Viennese Film genre with his creative partner actor/director Willi Forst in 1933, managed continued participation in films that were destined for the Reich. As a Jew, his work would have been automatically rejected by Germany, but his continued partnership with Forst and the most important new star in German-language film, their “discovery” Paula Wessely, made him an exception who slipped into these films—but anonymously so. His credit on the Willi Forst’s 1934 Wessely film, Maskerade , was removed in printed programs and advertisements in Germany. The following Forst-Reisch project Episode (Austria 1935) was a widely anticipated film, and its sudden antagonistic reception by the Nazi government intended to sow frustration and confusion in the Austrian film industry. The film was not passed by the German censors until an Austrian delegation met with the Reichsfilmkammer and the German distributor complained of lost German investments should the film be banned.
Walter Reisch created one more film in Vienna prior to his Hollywood emigration, The 1936 Silhouetten / Silhouettes , which explores the modern world of ballet and featured his wife Lisl Handl. It was Reisch’s solo attempt at writing and directing a Viennese Film. Without Forst and Wessely, it was not exported to Germany and found limited distribution elsewhere. Additionally, the Austrofascist film publication rejected it as an immoral film for its less than idealistic look at the professional world of dance and its suicide subplot. Reisch departed Vienna that same year.
Such situations recurred until the Anschluss, and each reveals how that space between official political antisemitism and Austria’s increasingly less independent political economy opened up small but significant opportunities for film’s creative communities, which soon closed again.
The career of Max Neufeld (1887–1967), one of the most popular of Austria’s entertainment filmmakers of the silent and early sound phase, is one that indicates not only the artistic but also the personal frustration with the problematic Jewish relationship with Austrofascism. Born to a gentile mother and a Jewish father, Neufeld had not considered himself Jewish either by Jewish law (in which the religion of the mother transfers to the child) or through cultural/ethnic identification. Born in Guntersdorf, Austria-Hungary, he had begun his creative life as a stage actor in 1904, and by 1913, his considerable talent and attractiveness had made him one of the first male stars in Austro-Hungarian silent cinema prior to the Great War. He was employed by the Wiener-Kunstfilm studio founded in 1911 by Austrian film pioneer Louise Kolm, her husband Anton Kolm, and their cameraman, Jakob Fleck.
Neufeld had acted in several films with his brother Eugen before the war. He had been granted a one-year volunteer status in 1914, given his fame as a major film talent, which allowed him to continue to act and direct in Vienna while receiving officer training there. His balancing act between a military and cinema career was unique and demonstrated his dedication to the new medium. In 1915, he was stationed on the Italian Front and had to stop film production, but then he made two films during a leave in 1916. Following these, Neufeld ultimately advanced to the rank of lieutenant, was decorated for bravery, and married actress Leopoldine Szakolczay whom he would divorce three years later. By the end of 1917, Neufeld had become involved in military film production, and in early 1918 he was a featured actor in three films produced at the Kolm-Fleck studio.
Following the war, Neufeld was often partnered with Austria’s first silent female film star, Liane Haid, and was considered the “most popular male film actor of Vienna.” 14 He cofounded the Vita-Film production company with the Kolm-Fleck partnership in 1919, which was responsible for creating Vienna’s greatest film studio, the Rosenhügel complex (the future Tobis-Sascha), one of the most innovative venues in Europe during the silent era. Neufeld gained a leading position in the company after the departure of Louise and Anton Kolm and Jacob Fleck for Berlin, after a claim of financial mismanagement was leveled against them, and he directed his first film, Stahl und Eisen/Steel and Iron (based on Ludwig Anzengruber’s play Stahl und Stein ) in 1920. Neufeld also assisted in the founding of Austria’s first union for film talent—the Filmbund .
All did not proceed apace. His production company, Max-Neufeld-Film, founded in 1922, became a casualty of the hyperinflation period of 1922–1924. Nevertheless, his direction of Die Brandstifter Europas/The Arsonists of Europe (Austria 1926), which continues the saga of Austria-Hungary’s Redl spy scandal into a heavily fictionalized Czarist Russia (featuring his performance as Rasputin), returned him to popular success. Nonetheless, Neufeld had resisted the opportunity to work in Berlin, as had many of his peers and supported the Vienna film industry throughout the decade. But that decision had practical drawbacks that drew him to Berlin on at least one occasion. Neufeld subsequently directed his first sound film there in 1931, the Viennese musical comedy, Opernredoute/Opera Ball , coauthored by one of the few women working behind the camera at the time, Ida Jenbach, a unique talent I will discuss later. Neufeld’s film earned critical praise at its New York screening 15 and was remade the following year in England as After the Ball (UK 1933), but with Neufeld only receiving credit for the original script.
Neufeld made no fewer than six films in Berlin in 1932, and his final film was completed there in September of 1933, almost eight months after the National Socialist assumption of power, was released in Germany without giving credit to him as director. His return to Vienna coincided with the flight of Jewish German, Austrian, Hungarian, and Czech talent employed in Berlin studios. Following both the inception of Nazi German racist control of Austrian film export and the establishment of the Austrofascist government, his first film in the “new” Vienna was Csibi, der Fratz/Csibi the Rascal (Austria 1934), which became a landmark film as one of the first screwball comedies in cinema. It starred Franziska Gaal, a Hungarian comic actress who had become a star in Germany, just as the Nazi propaganda machine instigated its hate campaign against her. She was born of Jewish ancestry sometime between 1901 and 1909 as Franziska Zilverstrich or Szidónia Silberspitz in Budapest, and she began her career on the Hungarian theater and cabaret stages. Her film debut in Hungary in 1921 led to her contract with the Berlin branch of Universal Pictures, and her first German language film, Paprika (Germany 1932), was met with critical and financial success, immediately creating her image as the naïve gamine. 16
The 1934 Neufeld film was shot at Tobis-Sascha’s Rosenhügel Studio in Vienna and in Hungary to avoid the film being blocked as a Jewish Austrian or Emigrantenfilm in hopes of German distribution, which it received albeit without crediting its director. 17 As a major critical and popular success in Austria and Germany, it exemplifies the vague dividing line between the mainstream Austrian film, which would accept the German racial laws and essentially “Aryanize” that segment of the industry for the German market, and the independent, not-for-German import Emigrantenfilm productions made with Budapest and Prague studios. As a nominally Hungarian film, Gaal had no difficulty with German release, which supports the view of the Tobis-Sascha director, Oskar Pilzer, that the German racial demands were intended to destroy the Austrian film industry in preparation for German control, and not meant as guidelines for other European films. 18 Austro-Hungarian director Geza von Bolvary’s entry in the Viennese Film genre, Frühjahrsparade / Spring Parade (Austria/Hungary 1934) made the following year, also succeeded in gaining German distribution with the stratagem of using the facade of a Hungarian production. Aside from starring Franziska Gaal, it was also a film made up of what was considered top-ranking “Aryan” Austrian and German talent. The film was scripted by Ernst Marischka and includes actors Wolf Albach-Retty, Paul Hörbiger, Theo Lingen, and Adele Sandrock. It was nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the 1934 Venice Film Festival.
Neufeld’s films in the following years were among the leading productions of the Emigrantenfilm industry in Austria, including Ein Stern fällt vom Himmel / A Star Fell from Heaven (Austria 1934), which was a musical film vehicle for operatic tenor Joseph Schmidt and the first film conceived as one not for German export and made with talent forbidden to work in Germany, including cinematographer Zoltan Vidor and composer Hans May. His elegant Biedermeier period Viennese Film based on a 1912 Leo Ascher/Alfred Grünwald operetta, Hoheit tanzt Walzer / His Highness Waltzes (Austria/Czechoslovakia 1935) was a commercial success due to the effective lead performance of Hans Jaray but was critically considered to be below the standards of Willi Forst’s Viennese Films because of the strong fictionalization of early waltz composer Joseph Lanner (as “Josef Langer”) which rendered the film’s fake biography formulaic by comparison. 19

Neufeld had lost out on several other key productions bound for Germany. His brief consideration of a Hollywood move, encouraged by both émigré screenwriter Geza Herczeg and Joe Pasternak, the former head of German Universal in Berlin who indicated interest in Neufeld at MGM and Paramount, was dispelled by “mit Rücksicht auf die in Wien lebenden Verwandten” (with consideration for relatives living in Vienna). 20 Ultimately, his long loyalty to Austrian film and, secondarily, to a regi

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