F.W. Murnau’s silent film, Nosferatu — written by a Galician Jew, Henrik Galeen (1881-1949) — premiered in Berlin on this date in 1922. Many critics have noted the parallels between Count Orlock, the vampire, and German Jewish stereotypes of the Jew: Amanda Hobson of Ohio University sees “Orlok as a stereotypical eastern European Jew, with extended shots of Orlok’s long and pointed nose, the use of extra shadowing to literally darken his bushy eyebrows against a large, pallid forehead, and costuming that made Orlok’s lack of normal, masculine musculature apparent.” Galeen’s script closely follows Bram Stoker’s Dracula, who indulged in similar features for his vampire; Stoker’s widow successfully sued for copyright infringement and put the film company out of business. Orlock, adds a blogger at The Vault of Horror, “is also made to look something like a rat, in accordance with the disgusting rodents he brings with him. This, in turn, ties back into the Jewish stereotype, as Jews were often equated with rats as well.” Unlike Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, who actually wore a Jewish star in the American film, Nosferatu (the word is thought by some to derive from the Romanian Nesuferitu, ‘the insufferable/repugnant one,’ or Necuratu, ‘the unclean one’) wears no Jewish icons. Henry Galeen was also the co-author (with Paul Wegener) of a 1915 silent film Der Golem, which you can see below. To see Nosferatu, look below that.
“Stoker’s depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood (and the blood) of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain. Those same anxieties were rampant in 1920s Germany, of course, and were being intensified by a huge influx of Jewish immigrants moving westward from Eastern Europe in the aftermath to the First World War and the Russian Revolution.” —The Unaffiliated Critic