October 31, 2019
By David M. Fortier
Did you know that Dracula served in the Austro-Hungarian Army and saw action during World War I? Well it’s actually true, sort of. To be more precise Béla Lugosi, the actor who became famous for playing the undead vampire Dracula, served during the Great War. Although he rarely spoke about his time on the Eastern Front, Firearms News has dug up a bit of information about his time in service. Lugosi, as a recognized member of the theater, was actually exempt from the draft when the war started. However he chose to enlist, and serve his country in 1914.
He received a commission and deployed to Galicia as an infantry lieutenant in the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. Here he saw combat against the Tsar’s Imperial Russian troops. The fighting was fierce and the Austro-Hungarian suffered losses of 100,000 dead, 220,000 wounded and 100,000 captured in three weeks’ time.
Lugosi though was recognized, and received a promotion to a ski unit and deployed to the Carpathian Front January 1915 during the Winter War. The conditions, for both sides, in the Carpathian Mountains were unimaginable due to the brutal cold, lack of equipment, lice and constant danger. The casualty rate was approximately 50%. As an example of the cold, two entire companies, with staff and officers, froze to death when the temperature plummeted to -20 F.
Lugosi spoke of the war once during an interview, “There was a moment I could never forget. We were protecting a forest from the Russians. All of us were cowering beneath huge trees, each man beneath a tree. A young unwary officer went a little way out of cover and a bullet struck his breast. I forgot the Russians were firing from their line with machine guns. Not a selfless man…I ran to him and gave him first aid. I came back to my tree and found out that it had been blown to the heavens in heavy crushing pieces. I became hysterical. I wept there on the forest floor, like a child…not from fear, not even from relief…from gratitude at how God had paid me back for having that good heart.”
Lugosi was wounded during fighting near Rohatin, Galicia (Rohatyn, Ukraine today) and again in the Carpathians. He was decorated for bravery, but was no longer fit for service. After 18 months service, he was medically discharged in 1916. He soon returned to the stage before eventually making his way to the United States in 1920, and film stardom. The terror he played on stage though was, in reality, nothing compared to the horrors he experienced in the snow covered Carpathian Mountains.