12 Friday, August 28, 1981
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
WS U Press Book Deals With `Golem Remembered'
The most famous of the
early golem films is the
one Wegener directed in
1920, "Der Goldm: Wie er
in die Welt Kam" (The
Golem: How He Came
into the World). This film,
set in medieval Prague,
attempted to be more
faithful to the legend
than the earlier ones had
The sets, designed by
Prof. Hans Poelzig, the
noted German architect,
and built by Karl Freund,
recreated the Jewish
ghetto. Captions appear in-
frequently as the story is
told mainly through the im-
The opening caption in-
troduces an important as-
trological motif not em-
phasized in the golem
stories previously analyzed
in this study: "The Learned
Rabbi Loew reads in • the
stars that misfortune
threatens the Jews."
This astrological motif is
reinforced by the image of
Rabbi Loew, in what ap-
pears to be the pointed hat
of a magician, studying the
stars through a telescope in
his tower. He is also using a
book of alchemy, while in
his laboratory below, the
bubbling beakers introduce
a chemical motif. (All of the
nonexistent in the earlier
legends, was to play a major
role in the many subsequent
Frankenstein films influ-
enced by Wegener's.)
The seven haloed stars
above the rabbi's tower
suddenly "dissolve into a
mailed fist" which holds
the emperor's decree
against the Jews, expel-
ling them from the city
because of their allegedly
the lives and property of
their fellow men, and
using black magic.
Whereas Rosenberg and
Bloch stress the religious
ritual and divine inspira-
tion in the creation of the
golem, the German film
emphasizes magic. Rabbi
Loew traces the figure of an
artificial man from an al-
chemist's drawing. As-
trological signs and secret
writing supply him with in-
structions for the creation of
the huge statue, which he
shapes from clay.
Astrological signs also
indicate that this is an au-
spicious time to summon
the demon Astaroth and
make him reveal the secret
word which will bring the
statue to life.
From his book Rabbi
Loew learns that the golem
was first created "long ago
Oak Park sculptor
by a magician of Thessaly."
Harry Friedman's "The According to his in-
Rabbi and the Golem."
structions, "If you place the
There is a golem joke that
goes something like this: A
wealthy American Jew vis-
iting Prague after World
War II wanted to see the
remains of the golem in the
attic of the Altneuschul.
When the shammes ex-
plained that it was forbid-
den for anyone to enter, the
American businessman was
insistent, opening his wal-
let and taking out a sub-
stantial bill, which he slip-
ped into the shammes'
Fifteen minutes later, the
visitor returned and com-
plained angrily that he had
wasted his time and money
because he found nothing in
the attic but old, worn tal-
eisim, torn prayer books
and mounds of dust.
When the shammes asked
if there were nothing else in
the attic, the angry Ameri-
can remembered one other
thing an old mirror on the
wall. "Aha," said the
shammes, "then you did see
Golem stories have
continued to fascinate
readers of all ages from
Prague to Buenos Aires.
As the 20th Century
enters its last two de-
cades, it is safe to predict
that this interest will
grow. Two world wars,
the Great Depression,
wars in Korea, Vietnam,
and the Middle East, the
atom and hydrogen
bombs, space explora-
tion and nuclear energy
have intensified man's
need for superheroes.
The time always seems
ripe for a new redeemer.
The bigger the problems,
the greater the need.
No wonder there was a re-
surgence of interest in the
golem legend in the 1970s,
for it is a legend combining
all the ingredients of a
popular film or television
series: violence, the occult,
religion, historical roots,
supernaturalism, and even
sex. . .
Several movie versions of
the Golem of Prague have
been made, but the man
most frequently mentioned
in discussion of these films
is Paul Wegener, the great
German silent film actor
and director. . . .
ing at the city gates, the cient rituals and prayers.
It is the demon As-
golem watches the children
at play in the bright sun- taroth who is forced to
light with flowers in their yield the magic word
hair. In a symbolic act in- which animates the
tended to bring this sun- golem. And it is the sen-
light and joyous activity suality of the Jewess
into the- dark, stale ghetto, Miriam that leads her to
he uses his brute strength to deceive her father and
entertain a lover behind
tear down the city gates.
The children flee in ter- his back.
However, this line of
ror, but one girl remains.
She stands there crying criticism is only partially
as the golem smiles at her valid. The film does portray
gently. When she offers the Jews as innocent vic-
him an apple, he picks tims of persecution.
her up and holds her in emperor's expulsion ord.._
his arms. Fascinated by an evil act of grave conse -
the amulet on his chest, quences. Rabbi Loew does
this blond Aryan beauty show compassion in order-
removes it, thus reducing ing the golem to save the
the giant man to a lifeless fleeing Christians when the
statue. The returning roof beams collapse, and the
children play with the silly, giggling girl friend
amulet until they lose it. and despotic emperor are to-
Informed by the watch- tally despicable.
All of these features could
man that the golem is near
the city gates, Rabbi Loew be construed as eliciting
finds the children sitting on sympathy for the Jews.
Another mitigating fac-
the inert body, now covered
with flowers. As their rabbi tor is the golem's craving for
praises God, 10 Jews pick up affection and kindness and
the remains and carry them his love of children and
magic word in the amulet on Loew was to fumble with
to the room below what used flowers. He is less monster
its breast, it will live and the paper upon which the to be the watch tower.
than the frivolous, mocking
breathe as long as it wears magic word was written.
The film ends with a guests.
His action supposedly at-
In short, it is difficult to
puzzling inconsistency. The
Another old book tracted the attention of vie- gates of the city, town down accept the Wegener-
suggests a Jewish source, wers who never saw the four by the golem only hours ago, Galeen film as con-
claiming, He who pos- men remove the statue and
are miraculously intact as sciously anti-Semitic. It is
sesses the key of Solomon Wegener take its place.")
they now swing shut. The more likely that the
The golem obeys the rab-
can force Astaroth to re-
white Star of David appear- Gothic super-naturalism
veal the word, if he ob- bi's orders but loses his
ing on the black walls turns of the legend had great
serves the due hour of the animation when the Star of into "a white star in the appeal to the creative ar-
David is removed.
meeting of the planets."
darkness of the heavens." tist.
Wegener's golem shows
Taking his Star of David
Manvell is certainly right
Jewish audiences may .. .
and a piece of paper, wear- increasing dislike of his
find the film anti-Semitic. when he praises the film's
ing his "wizard's hat or- creator. When Rabbi Loew
The glorification of the "stylized movements which
namented with kabalistic admiringly puts his hand on
blond Aryan child as repre- border on slow motion," its
symbols" and a Jewish star, the golem's shoulder, the
senting the power of inno- "bizarre medievalism."
It is also hard to fault
Rabbi Loew draws a magic latter stares at him with
cence smacks too much of
circle about him with his hatred. Tension builds as
German racism. The rabbi's Manvell's conclusion that
wand, then waves three the threatening homun-
black, pointed wizard's hat, "The Golem appears now
times, producing a ring of culus covers the Star of similar to one worn by many beautiful rather than
fire and another Star of David, preventing the rabbi
other Jewish males in the macabre, a kind of softened
from reaching it.
ghetto scenes, suggests that nightmare alleviated by the
The angry golem
all of the members of this uniform beauty of its im-
Suddenly Astaroth's head
exotic race are perverted by ages and the unreality of its
appears, and when the rabbi
the black magic of their an- situations and characters."
commands him to speak the cowering rabbi, who
magic word, smoke coming suddenly removes the
from his mouth spells out- Star of David just in time
AEMAET, the Hebrew to make the rebellious
word for "truth" (that is, servant freeze. Reading
in a German text a warn-
After dazzling special ef- ing that at the right con-
fects of blazing torches and junction of the planets
flashing wand, Rabbi Loew Astaroth will reclaim the
removes his wizard's hat golem, who will destroy
and collapses as he tries to his master and all living
step out of the magic circle. things, Rabbi Loew de-
When his one assistant, cides to smash the clay
the terrified Famulus, figure with a wooden
awakens him, Rabbi mallet. Unfortunately, he
Loew writes AEMAET on is interrupted by the cel-
a piece of paper, inserts it ebration of the Jews be-
in a hollow Star of David, low.
This interruption gives
and screws it into a soc-
ket inside the clay circle the jealous Famulus the
on the golem's chest. Im- opportunity to reanimate
mediately the golem the golem and order him to
seize his rival, Florian. . . .
Galeen was left with the
(Glut explains how the
change from statue to man problem of destroying the
was effected on the screen dangerous golem. Tradi-
right before the cameras. tionally, the one to remove
According to Carl Boese, an the name of God from the
assistant director, "Rabbi golem's mouth or forehead
was his creator, but the
scenario so far has made it
unlikely that Rabbi Loew
could perform this act be-
cause of the golem's hostil-
Galeen solves this prob-
lem with a strikingly effec-
tive scene for which the
audience has been prepared
A German child gives the Golem an apple in the
by the golem's earlier inter-
est in children. Reappear- movie "Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt Kam.
The Golem of Prague — a kind of Jewish version
of Dr. Frankenstein's more famous creation — is one
of the most fascinating characters in Jewish folklore.
According to the legend, in 1580 a rabbi named Judah
Bezalel Loew created a man from clay in order to help
protect the Jewish community of Prague from Chris-
tian slander and pogroms. Rabbi Loew was a real
person, an important 16th Century scholar and
author who was sometimes known as "The Great
Rabbi" or "the Maharal," but the golem he allegedly
brought to life has had a much longer career.
Wayne State University Press has just published a
study of the many different forms the golem has as-
sumed since his "birth" by the River Moldau, titled
"The Golem Remembered, 1909-1980: Variations of a
Jewish Legend." Written by Prof. Arnold L.
Goldsmith of the department of English at Wayne
State University, the volume is among those sup-
ported by the Morris and Emma Schaver Publication
Fund for Jewish Studies, and it adds yet another di-
mension to that series as it ranges from a background
sketch of the real Rabbi Loew to the golem's recent
adventure in a Superman comic book.
Dr. Goldsmith has been a long-time member of the
board of Cong. Beth Shalom.
Prof. Goldsmith, who has lectured on the golem to
audiences in synagogues and colleges in both Ohio
and Michigan, explains in his preface: "Essentially,
my plan was to recapture for a modern audience the
flavor of these incredible legends so important in the
Jewish cultural past." This article is excerpted from