The Golem

This page is under construction.  Thanks for being patient as it’s coming together. Currently there is a lot of information yet to fill in.

-Les

My father, was born in Czechoslovakia (now  the Czech Republic) in a small town near Prague. As I was growing up he would tell me some of the stories  he grew up with as a boy in  “the old country “.  One of them was  the legend of the Golem. Prague has an incredibly rich Jewish history.  The Old Jewish Cemetery in the Jewish quarter dates back centuries, no one really knows how far back. The oldest dated grave is 1439 and it extends to 1787. Since there was a finite amount of land (purchasing additional land to expand was impossible for the medieval jew) the cemetery is a jagged garden of tombstones, heaved up against the landscape. It’s estimated that the graves are 12 deep. It must have inspired countless supernatural stories.

The key at left is a souvenir from the Alt-Neu synagogue in Prague that my dad brought back.  The  Alt-Neu synagogue has been described as the oldest active synagogue in Europe, built in 1270.  The temple is featured prominently in a version of the Golem legend. All this  stuck me as a child.   This history and  European stories that my dad related  were so different from the stories and folklore in my American collective consciousness.

The word Golem (GOH-lem) as it is used in the bible describes an unshaped  form. an imperfect being. Adam is called “golem,” meaning “body without a soul” (Sanhedrin 38b) for the first 12 hours of his existence (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Golem.html)

(Above) The 2 inch ceramic Golem. Another souvenir  from Prague where they are quite popular.  Hopefully the thousands of little clay figurines will never “awake”.

The Golem is a man-made creature in Jewish folklore formed out of  clay to save the jewish people from persecution.    The city of Prague, specifically its Jewish ghetto  feature prominently in the story of the Golem.

The Clay man like creature is often portrayed as un-thinking, a force that to be controlled, used remotely, but for good. There is a bit of sorcerer’s apprentice  about it, ie: it will follow out a command until told to stop, or will do so literally.  Along with the power to construct something so unstoppable comes themes of hubris, and the responsibility for one’s creation. Themes that Mary Shelly wrote about in Frankenstein.  Often the Golem does save the Jews from destruction, but while doing it, becomes a creature of destruction himself that must be destroyed by removing the spark of life from it or divine word thus rendered back into inert clay.

Books/Print

(Above right) A  pen and ink illustration of Rabbi Loew creating the golem,  by well known Czech artist Mikoláš Aleš from the 1899 book Old Czech Tales .  Aleš is regarded as a national treasure in the Czech republic. A prolific artist who painted, illustrated books, magazines and art for the interior of the National Theatre in Prague. (left) is a statue of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel at  the new town hall in Prague by  sculptor Ladislav Jan Šaloun .

(Above Top) a 1915 edition of  Gustav Meyrink’s  Der Golem with illustrations (lithographs) by Austrian-German artist Hugo Steiner-Prag. Steiner-Prag, a Jew, was born in Prague (Then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) in 1880.  Steiner would later convert to Catholicism and  eventually  become a  professor at the Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Design in Leipzig.   He was fired from his teaching post due to his Jewish background when the Nazis rose to power. Steiner-Prag then  returned to Czechoslovakia, where he designed stage sets and founded a school.   With the  German invasion of Czechoslovakia he emigrated to Sweden and eventually  to America where he died in New York in 1945 .

 “The Golem’s Mighty Swing” by James Strum

Set in the 1920’s, Strum’s novel follows The Stars of David, a fictional barnstorming Jewish baseball team. A real team , The House of David provided the inspiration for the Stars, though the House of David was not a team of Jewish players but a team that considered themselves Christian Israelites.

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(above) A 1934 poster announcing an upcoming game. (rt) an early 1900’s postcard for the team

Strum has the team using a player in Golem costume ( Paul Wegener/Der Golem ) to drum up publicity and revenue for the team when they played. reluctantly, The golem suit is worn by a former Negro Leagues player (the only non-jew), Henry Bell who is a huge hulking figure that can really send the ball. Like the fictional team, The House of David was also concerned with  turning a profit as the money went to support their  religious society The Israelite House of David based in Michigan. They sponsored a Baseball team into the 1950’s and would at times employ professional players though they never had an african american player on the rooster.

Strum has written a wonderful novel about depression era baseball and social injustice  that I would highly recommend. It has always been cited by critics positively and was chosen as the Best Graphic Novel of 2000 by Time magazine. James is also the director of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction Vermont.

The image of a Golem/Frankenstein monster playing baseball, as odd as it is, has some precedent  before James Strum’s novel. “Herman the Rookie” is an episode of  the Munsters TV series (1965). The plot involves Herman being pursued by Leo Durocher as a major league prospect due to his superhuman feats on the baseball diamond.

(above) Stills from “Herman the Rookie“, April 8th 1965

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Joe Golem and the Drowning City

A new graphic novel from  noir illustrator Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. The story takes place in 1925 Manhattan, Which is now called the Drowning city because the lower part of the island is submerged under 30 ft. of water due to earthquakes 50 years prior. Joe Golem is a detective with a mysterious past. More to come 

The Golem in Film and Theater

Paul Wegener (b. 1874-d. 1948) was a German actor, and Director known for his roles in dark movies of the time. Wegener played the part of the Golem in all three of his Golem movies. His early concept of the Golem is probably the best known outside of the Czech Republic. Scenes and concepts in Der Golem provided a number of inspirations  for the look of James Whale’s 1931 movie, Frankenstein.

(above) Der Golem , a 1915 silent movie written and directed by Paul Wegener. Is a  movie about the 16th century Golem being resurrected by an antique dealer in contemporary (1915) times. No copy of the movie  exists though the odd still comes up on the internet.

(above) The other two golem movies in Wegener’s Golem trilogy are;  The Golem and the Dancing Girl (poster on the left)  which is a parody of sorts. I’ve read two slightly different synopsis of it. Wegener plays the part of an actor (or himself) who is famous for playing the Golem. At a costume party the actor  (in golem make-up) meets …a dancer who is infatuated with the Golem. She even has a satue of it in her room. In one summary Wegener attempts to replace the statue in the dancer’s room with himself in costume. The Golem and the Dancing Girl is also a “lost” movie. The final movie and one that survives is  The Golem : How He Came Into the World (poster above right ) from  1920. With it’s wonderful German expressionist verision of old Prague

(Above) The Golem: The Legend of Prague (1935? ’36?)

A French Czech collaboration shot in Czechoslovakia just prior to the Nazi annexation in 1938. The Golem: The Legend of Prague was directed by Julien Duvivier with  Ferdinand Hart playing the Golem, Charles Dorat is Rabbi Jacob, and Harry Baur as the Emperor.

The Emperor’s Baker and the Golem (1951)

(Above) One of the few seens with the Golem in it. Directed by Jiří Krejčík then replaced by Martin Fric.  This is the image of the Golem that you see all over Prague and as little souvenirs.

A historical comedy The Emperor’s Baker and the Golem was released in the US in 1955. Czech actor Jan Werich plays the dual role of Emperor Rudolf II and a baker, Matěj.

(above) something my Golem doesn’t do, emit smoke and have glowing eyes.

(Above) It!  (1966) with Roddy McDowall. Left Roddy trys to determine wether the arm of the statue (the Golem) has actually moved …or was it a trick of the light? The movie was also know as Anger of the Golem, Curse of the Golem)

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McDowall plays the part of a mad (interacts with his dead mumified mother ala Norman Bate mad…) assistant museum curator who upon discovering the Golem statue is responsible for 2 unexplained murders at the museum confronts the statue.  Arthur Pimm (McDowall) tells the statue he is aware of the spirit inside it and asks the Golem were the scrolls are that have written on them the Hebrew words to control him. Pimm finds a  secret compartment at the base of the golem which contains the parchment  and brings the Golem to life  under his control by  placing the scroll under the Golem’s  tongue.


Golem (1979), A Polish Sci-fi film by  director Piotr Szulkin. This film centers on the creation of a post nuclear man, a “New Adam” (according to Kinema). The poster is done by  polish designer Franciszek Starowieyski.   Starowieyski was born in 1930 and unfortunately  passed away this last Feb. 2009. He was the first Polish artist to have a one man show at the Museum of Modern Art (according to Wikipedia).  A gallery of his posters can be seen at www.poster.com.pl/starowieyski.htm

A poster for playwrite and theatre director Julia Pascal ‘s play for young audiences The Golem.  Poster by Polish artist Mieczyslaw Gorowski. a short bio and a gallery of his posters can be seen at www.poster.com.pl/gorowski.htm

The Golem in Comics/Graphic Novels

There has been considerable discussion in the last few years on the contribution and influence of Jewish  artists and writers on the comic book field. The early creators Will Eisner, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee (to name a few) and first hand knowledge of the Jewish immigrant experience.  Their families living Europe because of  anti-Semitism to seek a better life in America.  With all thateastern European  Jewish history in their past it’s interesting that the Golem as a comic character first appeared in  1970. (Above) In  issue #134 of The Hulk,   our green freind is mistaken for the Golem  by a little girl named Rachel and eventually enlists his help over throwing the Dictator Draxon. This all happens inthe fictional Republic of Morvania (which is near Albania, south of the Czech republic if it makes a difference).  I don’t think The Hulk is references the legend of the Golem. He’s more of a Jekyll and Hyde character but I can understand the obvious comparison of a out of control …Hulk. I think the comparison dosen’t pan out. The Golem has traditionally been mute and more importantly is under the control of someone.   Other Marvel characters which might be compared are ; The Thing (…made of rocks)

(Above) The Golem briefly headlined his own comic under Marvel’s Strange Tales in 1974 appearing in just 3 issues. He would also make apearances in other books in the ’70s such as Marvel Two-in-One below.

(Above) Left The Golem fighting the Thing. (right) The Invaders #13. The Invaders is the adventures of the WWII  team of  Captain America and Bucky , The Human Torch and Toro, and The Submariner.  Issue # 12 (1977) finds our heroes in  Poland trying to rescue  Jacob Goldstein from the Warsaw ghetto. Jacob Goldstein is the brother of  jewish scientist John Goldstein who fled to America and is now working on a secret project for the U.S.. Through the kaballah and some pseudo science Jacob is transformed into the Golem  frees the captured Invaders from a castle and dispatches Nazis. He (Goldstein) vows to stay in Poland to aid the Jewish people  and fight the Nazis.

(Above) Two appearances of a/the Golem in DC books. Left Weird War Tales # 8 (Nov. 1972) An anthology of paranormal, moralistic war stories. The Golem story is titled ‘ Thou Shalt Not Kill!”  and is drawn by comic grea Neal Adams. The look of the Golem is obviously inspired by Paul Wegener’s iconic portrayal.  (right) The Saga of the Swamp Thing # 11 (March 1983 )  Harry Kay, a Dachau survivor construct a Golem to stop the herald of the anti-Christ. Over the next two issues the Swamp thing eventually fights and deactivates the Golem.

(Above) left The Golem from Israel writer Eli Eshed and artist Uri Fink re-imagined the Golem not only a superhero but as one whose personal history spans  the history of comics publishing since the golden age of comics and the state if Israel . First featured in a  2003 book The Golem: A Story of an Israeli Comicbook, They proposed that  the “fictional series” the Golem was drawn by Jacob Kurtzberg (Jack Kirby) who in an alternate version of reality has immigrated to Palestine instead of growing up in America.  Like Michael Chabon’s fictional  1940’s superhero the Escapist in his book The Amazing Adventures of  Kavalier & Clay (which has a Golem in it), Eshed and Fink pay homage to the golden age of comics and it’s Jewish roots. (right) Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s first (1941) issue of Captain America

Despite the  examples I’ve chosen not all the covers for The Golem referenced famous American comics covers.  The Golem is currently an online strip in english which can be viewed here www.ynetnews.com/home/0,7340,L-3139,00.html.

( also blogged about in a post on June 27, 2008 ) In  issue # 2 of Gumby ( Behold the Golem!) . Written by Bob Burden, drawn by Rick Geary, and colored by Steve Oliff.   Gumby, like the Golem is a human like creature  made from clay. A similarity not lost on the authors as we find Gumby hypnotized by an unscrupulous  ringmaster  into behaving like a Golem to be displayed in his circus.

(Above) Action Comics #502  The Galactic Golem is a creature created by Lex Luthor out of space dust to destroy Superman.  (cover art by Dick Giordano and Ross Andru)

(Above) Working Girl Golem by Brooklyn based illustrator/comix artist Joe Infurnari for HEEB magazine. Link to the comic here heebmagazine.com/files/uploaded_photos/comix_17_1148.jpg

(above) Ben Grimm, the Thing from the Fantastic Four  draws comparison to a golem.  The drawing on the right was done by Jack Kirby in 1979  (bullyscomics.blogspot.com/2009_12_06_archive.html) . Kirby along with Stan Lee conceived the Fantastic Four in 1961.

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In Fantastic Four #56 ( Vol. 3) published in August 2002 it’s revealed that The Thing is Jewish in a story titled ” “Remembrance of Things Past”.    (A Full synopsis of the story appears here  http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/Thing.html) .  Mr. Sheckerberg, a central character in the story  mentions the similarity between The Golem-Protector of the Jews in a Ghetto and Ben Grimm-a superhero protecting mankind, particularly  since Ben has returned to his New York Lower East side neighborhood (Yancy Street), a ghetto, to protect Jewish pawnbroker  Sheckerberg.  Jack Kirby  was born Jacob Kurtzberg on the Jewish Lower East side of immigrant parents. Jack always considered the Thing Jewish and in many ways Ben is Jack’s alter ego.  Speaking about his mother ‘s influence  Jack commented:

“She was full of legends, she used to write herself, she used to dramatize everything, she had a wonderful imagination and we talked and talked and she made up stories for me. I think my style in comics directly relates from her form of delivery.”  (http://www.lordoflight.com/exclusive.html)

(above) panels from page 30 of FF # 56 56 ( Vol. 3),  Mr. Sheckerberg tells Ben ” …remember the tale of the Golem, Benjamin? He was a being made of clay–But he wasn’t a monster, he was a protector”

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In April 2004 to March 2005 DC published “The Monolith“, a comic whose central character was a Golem. Created by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Phil Winslade The Monolith ran for only 12 issues.  What a pity. Phil Winslade’s artwork was excellent, the characters were enagaing, sympathetic and well written, and the stories were good.  It seemed to end just as it was getting started. Accoding to the wikipedia entry the way to really destroy a Golem is poor sales.

(above) pp. 50-51 from The Monolith #1.  Here Rabbi Rava creates the Golem with the help of Han, and Alice.  The Monolith’s creation takes place in the 1930’s.

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The Monolith takes place in contmporary New York.  Alice Cohen, recovering drug addict and prostitute inherits The Golem when she inherits her grandmother’s (also named Alice) house in Brooklyn.  The Golem or here Monolith has been trapped within the house since the 30’s because he was uncontrollable. Alice, who the Monolith mistakes for her grandmother, frees the Monolith  and with a friend, ” Tilt” also an ex-prostitute form a family of sorts with the Golem.  The Monolith now assumes the duty of protector of the downtrodden.

I’m really not doing this story justice above  (more to come)

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Animation

Jiri Barta is a well known Czech stop motion animator.  In 1996 a short trailer for an unfinished movie based on the Golem was made available I believe to raise funds for a full length version.  It is impressive looking. I hope it will be realised at some point.  Barta describes the plot as “…is about a 19th-century student looking for the Golem’s body and who knows that the Golem died somewhere in this part of Prague….” The Short can be viewed here, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcJFhiQMB8I. I don’t know if this is the same  seven minute pilot that was shown in London in 2002.

(Above) screen shots from the trailer that show the clay that morphs into environments and characters. An interview with Barta is on the web at www.kinoeye.org/03/09/ballard09.php, that is also where the earlier  quote was taken from.

(Above) 1922  Notgeld from Frankfurt Germany featuring the Golem as a theme. Notgeld was depression era German emergency money issued by local towns. The inflation money became instantly collectible due to its designs and artwork which varied from location to location. There is an earlier post about notgeld by me titled : Cold, Hard Notgeld: “Es dreht sich alles um die Benjamins” on February 13, 2009.

(Above) Golem Gear scuba equipment. Located in Florida I’m not really sure what the connection/analogy to the golem is.  Maybe the indestructible , sink like a stone aspects?

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(above) The Golem logo for Paizo Publishing. Paizo  is a publisher of roleplaying games.

(above) left-Golem tours, middle-Golem Web Server, right– Golem Network Server (the same company as the middle logo?)

(above) Emet /Truth baseball cap seen at cafepress.ca

(above) Hard Rock Cafe Prague, considered Europe’s largest Hard Rock Cafe

2 Responses

  1. Les-thank you for this fascinating material regarding the Golem! please, can you advise me as to whether there is any means whereby i can purchase the weird and wonderful ceramic Golem figurine pictured in your blog? i cant seem to find it anywhere! please help! best wishes, Gil

  2. im looking for a book i read called the golem which took place in brooklyn ny in modern times. the author wrote about streets where i grew up. i think i read it back in the 1980’s. i lent it to a coworker and never got it back. can you help.

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