Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

He arrives from deepest Eastern Europe, carrying the soil of his homeland with him. He is an immigrant who must adapt to a new society and is very self-conscious about speaking English with a very thick accent. He has a dark complexion; his nose is hooked; he has massive and conspicuously bushy eyebrows and pointy ears; and he stands slightly stooped and hunched. He is clad in black from head to foot and he wears distinctive clothes, including a six-starred Magen David-like medallion, that set him apart from everyone else.

He remains proudly loyal to an alien tribe, the smallest of minorities, and though subject to intense persecution throughout his existence, he has remained steadfast through many centuries in his dedication to ensuring the survival of his race. He communicates with his followers through a mysterious code and a language unknown to others and, unlike everyone else on earth, his day begins at sundown. Not only is he unable to eat the same food as everyone else, his food preparation rite includes draining the animal upon which he feeds of every last drop of blood, and he also practices rituals that involve drinking a red-colored liquid. He is not only non-Christian, but he is physically and emotionally repelled by the mere sight of a Christian cross. Haters characterize him as evil, a capitalist bloodsucker, a person feeding on the social vigor of Europe, and as a general threat to contemporary civil society.


Is this an antisemitic description of a European Jew . . . or a description of Count Dracula?

Actually: both. As discussed below, that is no mere coincidence because Dracula represents the convergence of prevailing stereotypes of both Jews and vampires.

Stoker portrait

Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) – better known as “Bram” – was an Irish author who is best known for his 1897 Gothic horror novel, Dracula, which went on to become one of the most well-known works in English literature and which has been adapted in hundreds of films, television productions, video games, animated cartoons, comic books and dramas. It has been translated into 30 languages and, since its publication, it has never been out of print.

Stoker became interested in the theatre while a student and, while working for the Irish Civil Service, he became the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, which was co-owned by Sheridan Le Fanu, an author of Gothic tales who may have engendered his interest in such stories. Stoker produced over a hundred pages of notes for Dracula, drawing extensively from Transylvanian folklore, and many critics suggest that his vampire character was inspired by various historical figures, including particularly the infamous Vlad the Impaler. Interestingly, though he traveled the world, he never actually visited Eastern Europe or Transylvania, where his seminal novel is set.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Stoker found the name “Dracula” in Whitby’s public library while holidaying there, choosing it because he believed that it meant “devil” in Romanian, and he proceeded to spend several years researching Central and East European folklore and mythological stories of vampires. However, when the original 541-page typescript of the novel was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s, the title page was The Un-Dead; apparently, the title of the novel had been changed at the last minute.

Portrait of Vámbéry – Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula and the Jewish model for Van Helsing?

Of particular Jewish interest is that before writing Dracula, Stoker met and befriended Ármin Vámbéry (1832-1913), a renowned Hungarian-Jewish Orientalist and foundational figure in Hungarology. Many commentators argue that Dracula likely emerged from Vámbéry’s dark and moody stories of the Carpathian mountains and, in fact, Stoker claimed him as his consultant and credited him as a primary source of Balkan folklore. Some authorities further argue that the character of Professor Van Helsing, Stoker’s vampire hunter, was based on Vámbéry; in the novel, Stoker has Van Helsing refer to his “friend Arminius, of Buda-Pesth University,” where Vámbéry was a professor. Although Arminius is not a character in the novel, his influence upon Van Helsing is crucial to the ultimate defeat of Dracula.

Born Hermann Bamberger in Szent-György, Kingdom of Hungary into an impoverished Orthodox Jewish family, he eventually converted to Islam – and later to Protestant Christianity, probably to facilitate appointment to the faculty of the University of Budapest – and changed his name to Ármin Vámbéry. His father, a rabbi, died of cholera in his youth and, in a radical move disapproved of by the Jewish community, his remarried mother, believing that a secular education was key to upward social mobility in the non-Jewish world, transferred him from a yeshiva to a Catholic school – where his second-grade teacher taunted him with “Well, `Moshele,’ why do you study? Would it not be better for you to become a kosher butcher?” – and then to a Protestant school in Pressburg.

However, unable to support him and his siblings, his mother set him adrift at age 12 to fend for himself and, lame from tuberculosis, he was forced to serve an apprenticeship with a tailor and later as a tutor. However, he manifested an extraordinary talent for languages and, by age 16, he had become fluent in Hungarian, Hebrew, Latin, French and German, and was somewhat knowledgeable in English, Russian, Serbian, and other Slavic languages as he commenced his career as a writer.

After spending about a year in Constantinople, Vámbéry published a German-Turkish dictionary (1858). After years as a pioneering traveler of Central Asia in the double guise of a Turkish effendi disguised as a Sunni dervish, he published Travels in Central Asia (1865), which made him an internationally renowned writer and celebrity, and he was appointed professor of Oriental languages at the University of Budapest (1865) (to which Stoker refers in Dracula).

Vámbéry notably served as a trusted consultant on diplomatic work in the Ottoman Empire to no less a personage than Theodor Herzl and, among other things, used his connections in the Ottoman Empire to introduce Herzl to Sultan Abdul-Hamid in 1901. Although he did play perhaps the leading role in enabling Herzl to argue his case for Zionism directly to the Sultan, he did not share the Zionist leader’s optimism regarding the outcome of the meeting (and he proved correct). As Herzl wrote in his diary, Vámbéry admonished him:

[do not] talk to [the Sultan] about Zionism. That is a phantasmagoria. Jerusalem is as holy to him as Mecca. Nevertheless, Zionism is good – against Christendom. I want to keep Zionism alive – and that is why I have secured the audience for you, as otherwise you would not be able to face your Congress. You must gain time and carry on Zionism somehow.

In his published diaries, Herzl also documented his relationship with Vámbéry and, with great affection, describes him thus:

Vámbéry doesn’t know whether he is more Turk than Englishman, writes books in German, speaks twelve languages with equal mastery, and has professed five religions, in two of which he has served as a priest . . . He told me 1001 tales of the Orient, of his intimacy with the sultan, etc. He immediately trusted me completely and told me, under oath of secrecy, that he was a secret agent of Turkey and of England.

Notwithstanding his apostasy, Vámbéry argued for the right of believing Jews – which he definitionally limited to the Orthodox – to retain their way of life and, after Herzl’s death, his counsel was actively solicited by David Wolfssohn. Some critics note that Vámbéry never publicly embraced Zionism and that, as a convert to Islam, he certainly would have at least embraced the Muslim belief that Jews were better off under benevolent Muslim rule. However, Herzl’s diary entries and the esteem with which he was held by Zionist leadership would seem to belie the argument that he wasn’t at least sympathetic to the Zionist cause.

Another possible Jewish source cited by scholars from which Stoker may have drawn Dracula is Sefer Chasidim (“Book of the Pious”), an ethical and legal guide to everyday life and a foundational text of Chasidei Ashkenaz, a mystical and ascetic movement that flourished in Germany during the 12th and 13th centuries. There is a documented tradition of overtly Jewish female vampires, Estries, mentioned in the sefer by Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg, a twelfth-century German mystic. More strikingly, Sefer Chasidim describes in detail the alukah – a Hebrew word for a type of leech with many teeth that feeds on the throats of animals – as a human creature capable of flight with the ability to change its shape into a wolf; which dies if it cannot feed on blood for a sustained period of time; and which can be prevented after death from transforming into a demon by being buried with its mouth stuffed with earth. The comparison to Dracula is both stark and unavoidable, particularly given that according to some biblical scholars, the alukah, which is first referred to in Proverbs 30:15, can also mean “blood-lusting monster” or vampire. (Others maintain that Alukah is merely another name for Lilith, the Midrashic female figure who began as Adam’s wife and then became the primordial she-demon.)

Count Orlok, the vampire in Nosferatu – the ultimate antisemitic caricature?

The first film adaptation of Dracula, and arguably its most famous, was F. W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922), with Max Schreck starring as the vampire Count Orlok. [Ironically, “Shrek” – which was the actor’s real name – means “fright” in German and Yiddish.] Stoker’s widow, Florence, sued the filmmakers, alleging that her approval had never even been sought, let alone granted; maintaining that she had not been paid any royalties; and demanding that all negatives and prints of the unauthorized film be destroyed. When the lawsuit was finally resolved in her favor three years later, only a single print of the film had survived, but it had broad distribution as contraband and has survived to become one of the most important films of all time. The first authorized film version of Dracula did not make an appearance until almost ten years later when Universal Studios released Tod Browning‘s Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, which became known as perhaps the definitive Dracula film.

Interestingly, in Nosferatu, a manuscript page that is shown in passing displays mystical symbols on it, including a six-pointed star evocative of a Magen David and what may possibly be a few Hebrew letters (amid dozens of other signs) and, in the Lugosi film, the vampire also wears what appears to be a Magen David. This became an amusing issue in 1987 when General Mills, in response to complaints by Jewish media, agreed to redesign cereal boxes for its Count Chocula breakfast food to remove the same six-pointed medallion.

Incidentally, the script for Nosferatu was written by Henrik Galeen (1881-1949), a Jewish actor, screenwriter, film director and influential figure in the development of German Expressionist cinema during the silent film era who was known as “The Jewish Master of Silent Horror.” Born in Lemberg, Galicia, he became an assistant to Max Reinhart at the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin before writing, directing, and acting (he wore a yarmulka in the film) in The Golem (1914), the first cinematic representation of the famous Jewish fictional character. (The entire film has been lost, except for four minutes of footage.) He was also involved in the Vilna Troupe’s Berlin production of The Dybbuk in 1922, the year he was retained to write a version of Dracula; mistakenly believing it to be copyrighted, he changed the name to Nosferatu.

Alexander Granach as Knock in Nosferatu.

Moreover, the cast of Nosferatu included several Jewish actors, including Alexander Granach, the foremost Jewish actor in Berlin, who played Knock, the vampire’s henchman. Granach plays his character as the ultimate antisemitic stereotype, a cackling, grasping, bushy-eyebrowed money-grubber. He later fled Germany when Hitler rose to power, ultimately settling in Hollywood, where he became a successful actor in American films, often playing Nazis. Albin Grau, a student of the occult and a graphic artist who produced, designed, and marketed the film, was not Jewish, but he was nonetheless arrested, charged with being a socialist, and murdered by the Nazis at Buchenwald.

Nosferatu became a leading source of Nazi propaganda. Julius Streicher, who would become the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, the great organ of Nazi antisemitism, attended the film’s premiere in 1922 and quickly began featuring articles discussing parallels between Jews and vampires. In Mein Kampf, Hitler repeatedly refers to Jews as vampires and bloodsuckers.

Given the literally hundreds of versions of the original novel – including particularly Nosferatu, whose plot differs dramatically from Stoker’s original narrative – it is worthwhile to summarize here Stoker’s original story. For example, in Stoker’s novel, sunlight merely weakens Dracula, but it was Galeen in Nosferatu who first came up with the idea that sunlight evaporates a vampire and turns him into dust or wisps of smoke, which has become a universal theme in virtually all successor vampire stories

Stoker’s novel begins with Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified English solicitor, visiting Count Dracula at his castle in the Carpathian Mountains to help him purchase a house near London. Paying no attention to the Count’s stern warning, he wanders the castle at night and encounters three vampire women, but he is saved by Dracula, who gives the women a small child bound inside a bag. When Harker awakens the next morning and finds that the Count has abandoned him to the three vampires, he escapes and ends up delirious in a Budapest hospital. Meanwhile, Dracula has sailed on a ship to England with boxes of earth from his castle. Meanwhile, the captain’s log reflects the disappearance of the entire crew, until he alone remains, and when the ship finally docks at Whitby, a large dog is seen leaping ashore.

Lucy Westenra writes a letter to Mina Murray, Harker’s fiancée, about her acceptance of Arthur Holmwood’s marriage proposal. Dracula stalks Lucy and, after she hosts Mina at Whitby, she begins sleepwalking. When Mina receives a letter about her missing fiancé’s illness and goes to Budapest to care for him, Lucy becomes very ill. Professor Abraham Van Helsing determines that Lucy has been bitten by a vampire but, refusing to divulge the truth, he diagnoses her with acute blood loss. He places garlic flowers around her room and makes her a necklace of them but Lucy’s mother, unaware that garlic repels vampires, removes them, after which they are terrified by a wolf. The mother dies of a heart attack, with Lucy’s death following soon after.

After her burial, newspapers report that children are being stalked in the night by a beautiful woman and, when Van Helsing figures out it is Lucy, he takes a small group to her tomb, disinters her, drives a stake through her heart, beheads her, and fills her mouth with garlic. Harker and his now-wife Mina return, join the hunt for Dracula, and are advised by Van Helsing that vampires can only rest during the day on earth from their homeland.

Dracula secretly attacks Mina three times, drinking her blood each time, and he forces her to drink his blood on the final visit, the result of which is that she will be turned into a vampire after her death unless Dracula is killed. When the vampire hunters find Dracula’s English properties, they discover many earthen boxes within and they open each of the boxes; deposit blessed wafers of sacramental bread inside them, rendering them useless to Dracula; and reseal them. When they learn that Dracula is fleeing to his Transylvanian castle with his last box in tow, Van Helsing uses hypnosis to exploit Mina’s psychic connection to the count to track the vampire’s movements.

In Romania, the hunters split up, with Van Helsing and Mina going to Dracula’s castle, where they destroy the vampire women; Harker and Holmwood follow the Count’s boat on the river; and two others parallel them on land. When the hunters see Dracula’s box being loaded onto a wagon, they converge and attack it and, after they slash Dracula’s neck and drive a stake through his heart, he crumbles to dust and Mina is freed. (In some later versions of the story, Mina becomes a vampire and is killed through impalement.)

While Jewish villains are plentiful in gothic literature of the time, few appear in vampire stories. Nonetheless, critics have published many works claiming not only that Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula had Jewish origins, as described above, but also that antisemitism underscores the entire novel. However, for all the subtexts of the novel that have become fodder for the academics, Dracula himself is certainly not Jewish and there are actually only two explicit references to Jews in the novel.

First, trying to track down Dracula’s possessions, the vampire hunters discover that one item was received by German Jew Immanuel Hildesheim, whom Stoker describes as a “Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep, and a fez.” Thus, the only named person whose assistance Dracula enlists in escaping from London is a German Jew, who requires a bribe to help capture Dracula.

Second, after Dracula shipped 50 boxes of ordinary soil to London, one of the transporters, when asked about the strange cargo, responds in a working-class accent: “. . . There was dust that thick in the place you might have slep’ on it without ‘urtin’ of yer bones; an’ the place was that neglected that yer might ‘ave smelled ole Jerusalem in it.” Thus, the odor emanating out of the cargo was not any ordinary smell but, rather, a Jewish smell, feeding popular antisemitic views of Jews as being unsanitary.

While never identified as a Jew, Dracula – and vampires more generally – encompassed a variety of antisemitic stereotypes including, as described in the introduction to this article, being rootless and strange foreigners of East European origin, dark-complected, and lustful for the money and blood of others. Moreover, the mythology of the vampire has historically been closely linked to the Blood Libel slander, pursuant to which Jews are accused of using the blood of Christian children to prepare their Passover matzot, and Stoker frequently evokes the Blood Libel, including particularly in one scene where he has Dracula bring a child to feed his vampire wives. Significantly, the vampire hunters ultimately succeed in destroying Dracula using specifically Christian elements: crucifixes, holy water and wafer hosts as their weapons, which are the tools Christians claim to have used to “redeem” Jewish souls during the Crusades.

Furthermore, in the last two decades of the 19th century, the number of Jews living in England had increased more than sixfold because of pogroms and antisemitic laws enacted elsewhere, and there were widespread fears regarding foreign contagion and anxieties regarding the “dangers” presented by the veritable flood of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Britain. By feeding off upstanding English citizens, Stoker’s Dracula maintains the survival of his race, just as Jews newly arrived in Great Britain sustain themselves by usurping money and wealth through devious means, leaving their victims” dry.”

As such, whether intentionally or incidentally, whether he was an antisemite or merely reflected the ethos of his time, Stoker played on these anxieties – notably, one critic at the time describes Dracula’s schemes to further his undead bloodline as an attempt to “Judaize” Great Britain – and, by characterizing Dracula as raising loyal only to his own people in Transylvania, he similarly exacerbated public xenophobia and anxiety over Jewish “dual loyalty.”

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleDeadly Epidemic Wipes Out Black Urchins in Gulf of Eilat, Threatens Coral Reef
Next articleArkansas State Lawmakers Approve Strategic Partnership with State of Israel, Including Judea, Samaria
Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].