Roald Dahl's family apologises for his antisemitism

Statement on author’s official website says his views caused ‘lasting and understandable hurt’

The family of Roald Dahl has apologised for his antisemitism in a statement buried deep in the author’s official website.

Dahl, who died 30 years ago, is described on the site as “the world’s No 1 storyteller”, whose books – including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The BFG – have entranced children since the 1960s.

But Dahl was also an antisemite. In an interview with the New Statesman in 1983, he said: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere.”

He added: “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Now the family has quietly issued an apology for his comments. Their statement says: “The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements.

“Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations.

“We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”

No mention is made of Dahl’s antisemitic views in the author’s official biography on the site. The family’s apology was not sent to Jewish organisations.

Dahl was born in 1916 in Wales to Norwegian parents. During his war service in the RAF, he was badly injured when his Gladiator crash-landed in Libya. His first children’s book, The Gremlins, was published in 1943, followed by James and the Giant Peach in 1961, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964 and Fantastic Mr Fox in 1970.

He also co-wrote screenplays for the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as writing adult novels.

Many of his children’s books were adapted as films, for television and on the stage. In 2018, the latest period for which data exists, Dahl’s estate posted annual pre-tax profits of £12.7m from television and cinema deals, royalties, fancy-dress costumes and a line of baby toiletries.

Earlier this year, Netflix announced that the Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi was making an animated series of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and a second film about the Oompa-Loompas, the factory workers in the book. In October, Warner Bros released The Witches, a film based based on Dahl’s 1983 book of the same name, starring Anne Hathaway.

As well as his notorious interview with the New Statesman, Dahl later acknowledged his antisemitism in an article in the Independent in 1990. He said: “I’m certainly anti-Israeli, and I’ve become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism. I think they should see both sides.

“It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it. There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel.”

Shortly before his death, Dahl received a letter from two San Francisco children that read: “Dear Mr Dahl, We love your books, but we have a problem … we are Jews!! We love your books but you don’t like us because we are Jews. That offends us! Can you please change your mind about what you said about Jews. Love, Aliza and Tamar.”

Two years ago, the Royal Mint dropped plans to celebrate Dahl’s life with a commemorative coin because of concerns about his antisemitic views. Official papers obtained by the Guardian disclosed that the Royal Mint concluded he was “not regarded as an author of the highest reputation”.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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