The City Without Jews

Pianist and violinist performing in front of a movie screen

Prime Performance - Sunday, September 19, 2021 at 7:30pm       

The screening of this 1924 silent film by Austrian director H.K. Breslauer is accompanied with live original music composed and performed by world-renowned klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals and celebrated silent film pianist Donald Sosin. Based on the dystopian book by Hugo Bettauer, it is a chilling premonition of the Holocaust.


Artist's web site (Svigals)  Artist's web site (Sosin)  Film web site


Presented in partnership with the NYS Writers Institute. Funding support provided by the Sunrise Foundation for Education and the Arts, University at Albany Foundation, University Auxiliary Services and UAlbany's StAR Program.

Prime Performances Presentation Features Silent Film with Live Music

The UAlbany Performing Arts Center, in partnership with the New York State Writers Institute, is pleased to present a free screening of The City Without Jews accompanied with live original music composed and performed by world-renowned klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals and celebrated silent film pianist Donald Sosin on Sunday, September 19, 2021 at 7:30pm. A chilling premonition of the Holocaust released in 1924, The City Without Jews (Die Stadt ohne Juden) is 91 minutes in length with English intertitles.

Based on the controversial and bestselling dystopian novel by Hugo Bettauer, H.K. Breslauer’s silent masterpiece was produced two years after the book’s publication, shortly before the satirical events depicted in the fictional story transformed into an all-too-horrific reality.   Restored by Filmarchiv Austria, all complete prints of the film were thought to have been destroyed, but thanks to the discovery of a nitrate print in a Parisian flea market in 2015, this film can once again be appreciated in its ever-relevant entirety. 

Set in the fictional Austrian city of Utopia (a thinly-disguised stand-in for Vienna), the story follows the political and personal consequences of an anti-Semitic law passed by the National Assembly forcing all Jews to leave the country. At first, the decision is met with celebration, but when the citizens of Utopia eventually come to terms with the loss of the Jewish population – and the resulting economic and cultural decline – the National Assembly must decide whether to invite the Jews back. Though darkly comedic in tone and stylistically influenced by German Expressionism, the film nonetheless contains ominous and eerily realistic sequences, such as shots of freight trains transporting Jews out of the city. The film’s stinging critique of Nazism is part of the reason it was no longer screened in public after 1933.

Alicia Svigals and Donald Sosin have been bringing audiences to their feet throughout the United States and Europe with their unique, stirring violin and piano scores for Jewish-themed silent films.  After meeting at a silent film festival in Italy, the two soon recorded their first original score for the 1923 German film The Ancient Law and The City Without Jews score followed soon after.  Their third opus, the 1990 satire The Man Without a World by San Diego-based performance artist Eleanor Antin, will be released by Milestone Films. 

New Yorker Alicia Svigals is the world's leading klezmer violinist and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics. She has performed with and written for violinist Itzhak Perlman, Kronos Quartet, Debbie Friedman, Osvaldo Golijov, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, playwrights Tony Kushner and Eve Ensler, filmmaker Judith Helfand, poet Allen Ginsberg and many others. Her CD Fidl (1996) reawakened klezmer fiddle tradition. Her newest CD is Beregovski Suite: Klezmer Reimagined, with jazz pianist Uli Geissendoerfer - an original take on long-lost Jewish music from Ukraine. Svigals previously performed at the UAlbany Performing Arts Center in September of 2011 with her Klezmer Fiddle Express.

Donald Sosin is one of the world’s top silent film musicians. He has performed his scores for silent films, often with his singer/percussionist wife Joanna Seaton, at Lincoln Center, MoMA, BAM and National Gallery as well as at major film festivals in New York, San Francisco, Telluride, Hollywood, Pordenone, Bologna, Shanghai, Bangkok, Berlin, Vienna and Moscow. Sosin records for Criterion, Kino, Milestone and Flicker Alley and his scores are heard frequently on TCM. He has had commissions from MoMA, Chicago Symphony Chorus, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.