Violinist on lower left stage with film on large screen on right


Cine-concert with restored Austrian-Jewish silent film and live musical performance at UC Berkeley’s Magnes

February 20, 2024

BERKELEY — The City Without Jews, H. K. Breslauer’s 1924 silent masterpiece, will screen at the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, with live original music composed and performed by violinist Alicia Svigals and pianist Donald Sosin. The film will be followed by a conversation with UC San Diego Professor Emerita Cynthia Walk, UC Berkeley Professor Philipp Lenhard, and the musicians.

Based on the controversial and best-selling novel by Austrian-Jewish writer Hugo Bettauer, H.K. Breslauer’s 1924 film adaptation of The City Without Jews (Die Stadt ohne Juden) is set in the Austrian city of Utopia (a thinly-disguised stand-in for Vienna). The story follows the political and personal consequences of an antisemitic law passed by the National Assembly forcing all Jews to leave the country. At first, the decision is met with celebration, yet 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 or not 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 the shots of freight trains transporting Jews out of the city. The stinging critique of Nazism in the film is part of the reason it was no longer screened in public after 1933 (all complete prints were thought to be destroyed). Thanks to the discovery of a nitrate print in a Parisian flea market in 2015, as well as to the brilliant restoration efforts of the Filmarchiv Austria, this previously “lost” film can once again be appreciated in its unfortunately ever-relevant entirety.

The City Without Jews will be accompanied by live original music composed and performed by world-renowned klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals and celebrated silent film pianist Donald Sosin. In a recent review in The Village Voice, Ben Gambuzza wrote, “The music of Svigals and Sosin reflected the grave import and the humor of the film, in a biting manner.” He further stated “The alignment of music and picture was beautiful and subtle. It is no wonder that this was enough to make one audience member approach Sosin after the concert to thank her, as he wept.” The performance is made possible by the Sunrise Foundation for Education and the Arts.

Co-presented by the Magnes, the Austrian Center at the Institute of European Studies, Berkeley Center for Jewish Studies, the Department of History and the Department of German at UC Berkeley, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Goethe Institut San Francisco, and Open Austria/Austrian Consulate San Francisco, the evening will begin with light refreshments at 5:00pm and program at 5:30pm, including a welcome by Austrian Consul Isabella Tomás.

Following the film and performance, Philipp Lenhard will discuss the film and its restoration with film scholar Cynthia Walk, violinist Alicia Svigals, and pianist Donald Sosin.

The Magnes is located at 2121 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA, between the Downtown Berkeley BART station and the University of California, Berkeley campus.

Admission is free. Space is limited. Please register in advance at

For more information, visit:

About the musicians

Violinist/composer Alicia Svigals is the world’s leading klezmer fiddler and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics. She has performed with and written for violinist Itzhak Perlman, and has worked with the the Kronos Quartet, playwrights Tony Kushner and Eve Ensler, poet Allen Ginsburg, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Debbie Friedman and Chava Albershteyn. Svigals was awarded a Foundation for Jewish Culture commission for her original score to the 1918 film The Yellow Ticket, and is a MacDowell fellow. 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.

Pianist/composer Donald Sosin grew up in Rye, New York and Munich. Sosin received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Denver Silent Film Festival, and the Best Original Film Score award by the 2022 Mystic Film Festival. He has performed his scores for silent films, often with his wife, singer/percussionist Joanna Seaton, at Lincoln Center, MoMA, BAM, the National Gallery, at major film festivals in New York, San Francisco, Telluride, Hollywood, Yorkshire, Pordenone, Bologna, Shanghai, Bangkok, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and Jecheon, South Korea and many college campuses. He has worked with Alexander Payne, Isabella Rossellini, Dick Hyman, Jonathan Tunick, Comden and Green, Martin Charnin, Mitch Leigh, and Cy Coleman, and has played for Mikhael Baryshnikov, Mary Travers, Marni Nixon, Howie Mandel, Geula Gill, and many others. He records for Criterion, Kino, Milestone, Flicker Alley and European labels, and his scores are heard frequently on TCM. He has had commissions from MoMA, EYE Amsterdam, Deutsche Kinemathek, L’Immagine Ritrovata, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He lives in rural Connecticut with his family.

About the speakers

Cynthia Walk, Associate Professor Emerita of German Literature and Film Studies at the University of California, San Diego, received her Ph.D. from Yale. Her research has focused on modern drama, theater, and film with publications on intermediality, race, and ethnicity in Weimar cinema. She also worked on the restoration of Jewish-themed films from the Weimar era and contributed to the restored version of The City without Jews.

Philipp Lenhard is the DAAD Associate Professor of History and German at the University of California, Berkeley. He specializes in modern German and Jewish history and has recently published a new history of the Frankfurt School (in German).

Isabella Tomás is the Austrian Consul in San Francisco and Co-Director of Open Austria. She has also held diplomatic posts in Madrid and Brasília. Before joining the Foreign Service in 2008, she worked as a foreign langague assistant in two lycées in Versailles, France.

About the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley

The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life is a museum and research center that preserves, studies, and interprets its holdings to generate new knowledge and understanding of Jewish cultures with and for its academic and public audiences. 

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