Hungarian-American movie actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956), best known for his role as Dracula, took part in protests against the persecution of European Jewry.
Because of his union activism, Lugosi was compelled to flee his native Hungary in 1919. Dodging U.S. immigration restrictions, he sneaked into the U.S. at the port of New Orleans in 1920, then later made his way to New York City and there managed to enter legally through Ellis Island. Although he barely spoke English, Lugosi managed to land the starring role in John Balderston’s stage adaption of the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula. With his authentic Transylvania accent and hypnotic stare, Lugosi was the obvious choice to star in Hollywood’s Dracula film four years later. Starring roles in other horror films soon followed. By the time World War II broke out, Lugosi had established himself as Hollywood’s most famous villain, as well as arguably the best-known Hungarian immigrant in America.
After the Germans occupied his native Hungary in 1944 and began deporting its Jews to Auschwitz, Lugosi agreed to serve as one of the keynote speakers at a protest rally organized by Jewish groups in Los Angeles. The August 28, 1944 demonstration, which according to press reports attracted more than 2,000 participants, called on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to put pressure on the Hungarian regime, and to loosen America’s immigration restrictions–the same regulations that had made it so hard for Lugosi himself to reach the United States.
Sources: Medoff and Spurlock, “A Movie Monster Who Spoke Out Against the Nazi Monster,” p.9.