863.4061 All Quiet/10

The Minister in Austria (Stockton) to the Secretary of State

No. 262

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s telegram No. 11, March 27th, 4 p.m., and my telegrams No. 27, April 2nd, 4 p.m., and No. 33, April 8th, 5 p.m., in reply, relative to the film “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

[Page 868]

In the early part of January, Mr. S. Spiegel, a representative of the Berlin office of Universal Pictures, called at the Legation and requested my assistance in connection with the Remarque film. He told me that our Ambassador at Berlin had interested himself in the matter in Germany, and had been very helpful. Before taking any steps in his behalf, I telegraphed to Ambassador Sackett on January 5th, as follows:

“Will be grateful for a telegraphic summary of any instructions you may have received from the Department relative to Remarque film. I am confronted with a similar situation as Austrian Government has recommended that its exhibition be prohibited in the provinces. Vienna Diet which is Social Democratic has authorized its exhibition and disturbances similar to those in Berlin may occur here.”

Upon the receipt of his reply to the effect that he had received no instructions from the Department and that consequently the Embassy had taken no action, I informed Mr. Spiegel that I could make no official move in connection with the matter except upon instructions from the Department.

Universal Pictures had attempted to pave the way for the exhibition of this film in Austria by giving a special performance to which were invited the principal Austrian officials and municipal authorities of Vienna. Mr. Spiegel had assured me that the representatives of Universal Pictures had discussed the question with Dr. Winkler, Minister of Interior, and Dr. Schürff, Minister of Justice, and that both these gentlemen, having seen the picture at the special performance, had expressed themselves as having no objection to the exhibition of the film in Austria, even though it had been prohibited in Germany as the result of riots instigated by the National Socialists. However, even at the beginning, this film was viewed here from a political angle, due to the fact that it had been leased for exhibition in Austria by an organization known as “Kiba” (Kinobetriebsanstalt), the largest motion picture distributing agency in Austria, which is controlled by the Social Democratic Party. The Social Democrats were eager to have the picture exhibited. The other political parties, with the exception of the Heimwehr and the relatively unimportant National Socialists, were either indifferent or lukewarm in their opposition. It was at first believed that the Austrian Government would permit the exhibition of the film, but I was later informed by Mr. Spiegel that Dr. Curtius, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, had appealed to Dr. Schober to exert his influence to have the picture prohibited as an evidence of the solidarity of the two Teutonic nations. The position taken by Dr. Schober in my last conference with him would indicate that this information was substantially correct. The Austrian Federal Government, [Page 869] having no constitutional authority to ban the film, could only urge the provinces to prohibit it. All of the provinces complied, with the exception of Vienna, which, being overwhelmingly Social Democratic, ignored the Government’s recommendation.

It was originally intended to exhibit the film at the Kiba-owned Apollo Theater, one of the finest in Vienna, where a large percentage of the best first-run pictures are shown. One performance was given at the Apollo on the night of January 3rd. A cordon of police thrown around the theater prevented a mob which had assembled from doing any damage. Kiba then decided not to expose the Apollo again to possible mob violence and transferred the picture to another of its theaters, the Schweden Kino, in the Jewish quarter, on the Danube Canal, where it was first shown on January 7th. There were minor disturbances, but the police were able to prevent any serious disorder. A crowd collected each night, milled around, and broke windows in Jewish shops and cafes. After the picture had been exhibited three days at the Schweden Kino, the Minister of Interior, on January 10th, ordered it withdrawn as a police measure, contending that there was no reason for the State to be put to such heavy expense to protect the picture. It had been necessary to mobilize hundreds of policemen every night in the vicinity of the theater to preserve order, and the business men of the section had added their protests to those of the Heimwehr and National Socialists.

In the early part of March, Mr. Spiegel, who was on his way to Belgrade, again called at the Legation and informed me that, pursuant to a resolution passed by the Reichstag, the exhibition of the film “All Quiet on the Western Front” would be permitted in Germany at performances not open to the general public. He also told me that my colleague at Belgrade had been instructed by the Department to cooperate with Universal Pictures in obtaining a reversal of the censor’s decision banning the exhibition of the film in Yugoslavia. Later, at Mr. Spiegel’s request, Mr. Prince sent me a copy of the Department’s telegram relative to the film.

Mr. Spiegel was in Vienna again on March 28th, when I received the Department’s telegram No. 11 referred to above. I immediately made an appointment with Dr. Schober and asked him to explain to me informally the Austrian Government’s present attitude towards the film. He said that he had never seen the film, but that he had discussed it with other members of the Government who had seen it, and that personally he had no objection to it. He added he had read in the press that a law had been passed in Germany authorizing the exhibition of the film at closed performances, but that he did not know whether the report had been officially confirmed. He went on to say that if its exhibition were permitted in Germany, the film, [Page 870] with a few alterations, would probably be released in Austria. He further said that he was not worried about any possible disorder, as, with adequate police protection, demonstrations against the film would soon cease. Dr. Schober promised that he would thoroughly investigate the matter and let me know definitely the following week how the Austrian Government felt about it.

When I saw him again on Wednesday, April 8th, his attitude had changed entirely. The Austrian Minister at Berlin had informed the Austrian Foreign Office that, regardless of press reports to the contrary, there had been no change in the situation in Germany. Dr. Schober explained that a bill had passed the Reichstag providing for closed performances of films banned by the censor, but that the bill had not yet become a law, as President Hindenburg had not signed it. He then told me quite frankly, but in confidence, that Austria was acting in this matter in concert with Germany and would follow Germany’s lead, adding that as Germany had declared the film prejudicial to the prestige of the German Army and obnoxious to the German people, the Austrian Government could take no other course than to prevent its exhibition in Austria until Germany’s attitude towards the picture had been officially reversed.

Dr. Schober is essentially the police president and he reiterated that the police could easily control the situation should the exhibition of the film be permitted in Vienna. He gave me the impression of a man in an embarrassing position. He had no objection to the film on its merits and he was confident that the police could prevent any serious disorder if its exhibition should be permitted. However, he had to stand by Dr. Curtius as long as the film was banned in Germany. I am informed he has privately stated his regret that the picture had to be withdrawn in the manner it was, as it gave the impression of weakness. He was opposed to yielding to the mob, regardless of how much it cost to maintain public order.

Rioting may result if the picture is again exhibited in Germany, but I agree with Dr. Schober that there will be no serious disorder if the picture is shown again in Vienna. The Austrian character is more easy-going than the German, and the Austrian demonstrates with less violence and determination than his German brother.

On April 9th, the Legation received from the Foreign Office an informal memorandum in English, dated April 7th (the day before I called on Dr. Schober, which would indicate that it was the same memorandum which formed the basis of his statements to me), with regard to the situation in Germany, which read as follows:

“Inquiries instituted in Berlin by the Federal Chancellery (Department for Foreign Affairs) with a view to establishing the facts underlying the news of an alleged release for private view purposes of the [Page 871] film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ in Germany have given the following result:

The contention publicly made in Austria that the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ has been released for private view purposes in Germany is obviously due to a misapprehension. It is true that, quite recently, the German Diet and Council have passed a new film bill which, however, has not received the President’s assent and, therefore, has not become law for the time being. Under this Bill which, as stated before, has not come into operation the Film Censors, on application and under special circumstances, may give their consent to a film under ban being shown to a private audience. It goes without saying that, in these circumstances, the Film Censors are at liberty either to permit or else to prohibit the exhibition for private view purposes of a film under ban. Hitherto the Bill in question has not become law and as regards the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ no application has been made and no decision of any sort has been taken by the Film Censors, which implies that the position has not undergone any change. Not until the law in question has been put in force will it be possible to show the film ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ to a private audience provided that the Film Censors approve of this course being taken.”

As an interesting sidelight on the efforts of Universal Pictures to obtain a removal of the ban upon the exhibition of this film in Germany, I quote in part from a letter from Mr. F. W. Allport, the Berlin representative of the Hays organization, to the Commercial Attaché, dated April 4th:

“As you undoubtedly know, Universal has been working actively to have the film approved in various European countries where it has been barred. They have been extremely active here and have gone so far as to have the Socialist supporters of the film put a law through the Reichstag permitting the showing before special audiences of films rejected for general exhibition by the censor. They have been equally active in overcoming obstacles in other Central and Eastern European countries.

I am afraid their German efforts are in vain. Even though they might obtain the right to show the film to special audiences (members of political parties) the loss that they and the American film industry as a whole would sustain through the resulting political agitation would quite offset the financial advantages they might hope to gain. Consequently, I very much doubt that they will release the film at all in Germany at the present time. The same objection does not necessarily exist in other countries. Consequently we hope that their efforts to show the film in countries apart from Germany may be successful.”

The proposed Austro-German customs union now under negotiation has bound Austria even more closely to Germany, and, as stated in my telegram No. 33 referred to above, I am of the opinion that the Austrian Government will not act independently in this matter. If the ban on the film is lifted in Germany, I believe that Universal Pictures [Page 872] will have very little difficulty in obtaining authorization to exhibit it in Austria.

I still feel that, under the circumstances, it would be not only inadvisable but futile for our Government to take any formal steps with a view to having the film released for exhibition in Austria.

Respectfully yours,

G. B. Stockton