Jewish anti-fascist film thought destroyed by Nazis restored after 80 years

1931's Europa had taken on a mythical status in the film world as an early avant-garde film that was supposedly destroyed by the Nazis.

Dan Verbin, Canada ,

Film reel
Film reel
iStock

Europa, a 1931 anti-fascist film made by a Polish Jewish couple that was thought destroyed by the Nazis, has been restored and was shown this week for the first time in 80 years.

The film, shot in Stefan and Franciszka Themerson’s bedroom in Warsaw, was based on Anatol Stern’s 1925 same titled poem, and was a statement about Europe’s increasing descent into violence and chaos.

The 12-minute film, making use of collages and photograms, is considered Poland’s first famous avant-garde film.

In 1938, the couple fled to France where they left all five copies of their movie with Paris’s Vitfer film laboratory.

The Nazis confiscated the film copies after occupying France, and they were assumed to have been lost.

After the war ended, the Themersons moved to London.

The film was rediscovered by accident in Germany’s national archives in 2019.

The Commission for Looted Art in Europe represented the Themerson estate and retrieved the film. It was donated to the British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive.

A restored version of the silent film, using a soundtrack composed by Dutch composer Lodewijk Muns, was screened at the BFI London Film Festival on October 6, with an introduction by Franciszka Themerson’s niece.

Europa had taken on a mythical quality by film buffs who were certain it had been lost forever.

The new version of the film is a digital version in 2K, where it will be available for future generations to enjoy.

Ben Roberts, CEO of the BFI, said: “We are honoured to be part of this valuable film’s incredible story, by preserving Europa’s original nitrate film in our collection and helping to make this significant piece of anti-fascist work available now and for the future.”

Benjamin Cook, of UK arts agency LUX, who helped bring the film to the BFI, told The Guardian that it was “truly one of the most important film rediscoveries of recent years.”

Europa is a “major lost work of the European avant-garde and an important affirmation of Stefan and Franciszka Themersons’ important contribution to cinema history,” he said.



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