A Film by Bernadette Wegenstein

In pre-production

A Sweet Secret is a two-part film project directed by Bernadette Wegenstein and produced by Annette Porter.  It is centered around pre-Holocaust Vienna and two Jewish families from Eastern Europe, the Feuersteins and the Wachsteins, who immigrated to Vienna at the end of the 20 th century.  


Michael Feuerstein became a renowned playwright and Sonia Wachstein, then a teenager, was the intern to the most famous Viennese actress of the time, Hansi Niese.  Niese played the main role in Feuerstein’s previously lost feminist play Ein Süsses Geheimnis.  This project will culminate in a two-fold film production of both a narrative film and a documentary film with the goal of critically considering the erasure of Jewish creativity in early 20th century Austria and the overwhelming atmosphere of antisemitism that saturated Jewish-Austrian life. 

Approaching the creative development of A Sweet Secret with the kind of extensive research that underpins all her films, Bernadette Wegenstein immersed herself in records that had been painstakingly preserved from 1930's Austria - including family photographs, ephemeral films, and lists of property appropriated during the "Aryanization."  She studied the musical oeuvres and films of the era, and explored the streets of Austria, where Michael Feuerstein and Sonia Wachenstein lived.  While watching the rushes created during the research, both the Director and Producer concluded there were two types of films emerging from the research they were compelled to make.  


Narrative Film:

The title of the film, A Sweet Secret, is a reference to the title of the original play, Ein Süsses Geheimnis, a forgotten feminist comedy written and performed in Vienna in 1927.  The narrative film extends past the boundaries of the physical archive, where history is preserved, by taking a closer look at memory and trauma through the lens of a personal story of exile and continuous survival. 


The film revolves around the figure of Sonia Wachstein, as she recollects memories from her childhood in Vienna, her exilic flight after the Annexation of Austria, return to Austria in the 1990’s, and the aftermath of the Holocaust.  In the process of her return to post-war Austria, Sonia uncovers memories of her close family friend, Michael Feuerstein. She recovers one of his stage plays from the Austrian National Library, located ironically at the Heldenplatz, where the Anschluss (annexation) took place in 1938.  She recalls watching the play as a child and decides to take the script back with her to the United States to restage it. 


Contained within the fabric of the play are concerns circulating women’s body autonomy as well as motherhood after premarital pregnancy, which intertwine at a pivotal time in world history during the rise of fascism.  

The Archives: A Documentary Film

The documentary film The Archives will investigate the question of the erasure of history and Holocaust memory, focusing on the physicality of multiple archives (such as the Austrian State Archives, the Simone Wiesenthal Archives, the Shapell Center of the USHMM) and the important artifacts and original documents that are preserved there.  

The documentary will highlight the crucial work of the archivists without whom these multi-stranded threads of history connecting us to the past would have disintegrated.  The one minute film clip with Dr. Hubery Steiner, archivist at the Vienna State Archives, shows the responsibility and the weight of preserving "Aryanization" records and the other documents pertaining to the destruction and erasure of Jewish culture in Europe.  

The Archives is a documentary that looks at the "Aryanization" through the unique and powerful lens of the archivists themselves.  Passionately committed to uncovering, documenting, and preserving facts pertaining to the erasure of Jewish culture in Europe, the archivists are Carl Sagan's "candles in the dark," aiding to illuminate what is true.  A role that has never been more important than in today's "post truth" era flooded with disinformation and propaganda.