Outbreak of the war
End of the war

What the films didn’t show 2: Religious diversity

The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had a diversity of religions, and the Emperor’s subjects included Catholics, Protestants, orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims. Except for the Catholic Church, however, religious groups were practically absent from the Austro-Hungarian pictorial canon.

The Catholic Church was a fundamental pillar closely connected with the house of Habsburg. In spite of a few anti-clerical laws in the second half of the nineteenth century, there was no strong liberal movement critical of religion. Throne and Church formed a unit. Through his presence at the Corpus Christi processions or his patronage of the International Eucharistic Conference in Vienna in 1912, the Emperor symbolized this alliance. It was also underpinned by the membership of the various religions. Austria was a Catholic country: according to the 1910 census, 79 per cent of the inhabitants of the western half of the Danube Monarchy were Catholic, and the proportion was even higher in the Alpine regions.

Whereas films exist of the Catholic liturgy, the other religious groups in the Monarchy are practically absent from the cinematic canon – be it the Protestant minorities among the Hungarians and Slovaks or the orthodox Christians, Jews and Muslims in the border areas, Galicia, Transylvania, Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are few films like the imposing Emperor Franz Joseph in Sarajevo: a Journey Through Bosnia and Herzegovina (A 1910) showing the confessional pluralism of the Habsburg empire. In this film groups of Christian and Muslim children pay tribute to the aged monarch.

Although accounting for only 3 per cent of the population of the later Republic of Austria, Jews, particularly in the cities, made an important contribution to economic and intellectual life. The integration of Jews since the reforms of Joseph II was an important factor in the development of an innovative culture. The mainstream population reacted with prejudice and resentment nourished by traditional beliefs, fear of modernization, biological racist views and ideas of ethnic nationalism. The growing anti-Semitism fostered mainly by the Christian Socialist and German Nationalist groups was directed against small traders and representatives of orthodox communities, who corresponded to the stereotypical image. Galician ‘Ostjuden’ were singled out particularly as scapegoats after 1914. They were unjustly accused of responsibility for the disastrous consequences of the First World War. The example from the film Types and Scenes from Viennese Popular Life (A 1911) is an early example of anti-Semitism: a Jewish trader is contemptuously ordered away from the table.

Translation: Nick Somers


Hanisch, Ernst: Der lange Schatten des Staates. Österreichische Gesellschaftspolitik im 20. Jahrhundert, Wien 1994

Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896-1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

  • Aspect

    The Habsburg empire

    Austria-Hungary had an extremely diverse state structure. At the start of the First World War it was a major power in decline. Social and political problems and the dominant nationality conflicts shook the empire to its foundations. At the same time, the Monarchy represented an enormous cultural region in which the Habsburg empire flourished in spite of the political stagnation.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.


  • Development


    Around the turn of the century anti-Semitism entered the political agenda and became part of the ideological programme and guiding principle behind political activities. It was based on an ideology that stigmatised Jews as “different” and as a threat to society. During the First World War, anti-Semitic agitation abated initially underthe domestic “truce”, but it heated up again as the war failed to take the desired course.

  • Development

    The Habsburg myth – the dynasty before and after 1918

    The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty formed the ideological basis for the Habsburg Monarchy, since the existence of the multi-ethnic state was primarily a product of the dynastic history of this ruling house.

    In the latter days of the Habsburg Monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph personified the imperial idea, although towards the end of his sixty-eight-year reign he was reduced more and more to an abstract symbol, a kind of father figure. His death in November 1916 left a vacuum at the head of the dynasty, which his successor Karl could no longer fill.