Jo Rowling has said in a 2000 interview, “Bigotry is probably the thing I detest most: all forms of intolerance, the whole idea of “that which is different from me is necessarily evil.”1 Not as many people remain who are old enough to remember living through World War Two. Despite the bombing of cities in the London Blitz and the real threat of invasion, Great Britain stood alone (except for its Commonwealth allies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand) against an enemy driven by a particularly vile ideology - the Third Reich. The worst of this horrible regime wasn’t revealed until 1945, in the closing days of the war, when the allied armies liberated concentration camps and found the survivors of the Holocaust. The doctrines of the Third Reich with its anti-Semitic mantra, its belief in the superiority of some humans over others and its tyrannical insistence on squashing dissent led to the murder of six million Jews, as well as hundreds of thousands of other groups like Gypsies, political prisoners, and many others who had displeased the Nazis for one reason or another. However, the evil that drove the Third Reich goes much deeper than the cruel Nazi ideology which caused so much death and destruction.
But what has Harry Potter got to do with the Third Reich? After all, the events which take place in the series are set in the 1990’s, a good fifty years after the events of World War Two. Long after the war was finished in 1945, its unique times provided inspirations, backgrounds, and lessons to be drawn for a whole swathe of children’s authors. Some of them, like C.S. Lewis, wrote books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which started with the evacuation of children from London. Another book, Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom, demonstrates how one such child, evacuated to the country, had been abused by his ignorant, narrow-minded mother. Ill-treating and neglecting him, she had forced him to live up to her own discriminatory, unthinkingly judgmental belief system. In Harry Potter, though, only the train trip from London to the British countryside, the start of a different life, and Harry’s former bedroom in a cupboard suggest similarities to such World War Two novels as Goodnight Mister Tom or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And, of course, Dumbledore’s intriguingly famous defeat of Grindelwald in 1945 does indeed seem a reference to the end of World War Two.
One Mugglenet essay suggests that the Harry Potter series might be an allegory or a metaphor for the Third Reich. The author of this article asks:
“[I]s the entire series a metaphor for something far grander than just your average Good vs Evil? Could Ms. Rowling, whether purposefully or not, have created an allegory for the Nazi movement? All the evidence certainly seems to point to this as a definite possibility. And, to be sure, comparisons can be made. In examining Voldemort’s misdeeds, and the role of his followers, many have argued that both have an eerie resemblance to Hitler and his henchmen.” 2
J.K. Rowling herself has drawn a likeness between the pure-blood fanaticism of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and the Nazis’ anti-Jewish bigotry. On her website, jkrowling.com, she writes:
“The expressions ‘pure-blood,’ ‘half-blood,’ and ‘Muggle-born’ have been coined by people to whom these distinctions matter, and express their originators’ prejudices. As far as somebody like Lucius Malfoy is concerned, for instance, a Muggle-born is as ‘bad’ as a Muggle. Therefore Harry would be considered only ‘half’ wizard, because of his mother’s grandparents.”
If you think this is far-fetched, look at some of the real charts the Nazis used to show what constituted ‘Aryan’ or ‘Jewish’ blood. I saw one in the Holocaust museum in Washington when I had already devised the ‘pure-blood,’ ‘half-blood’ and ‘Muggle-born’ definitions, and was chilled to see that the Nazis used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters. A single Jewish grandparent ‘polluted’ the blood, according to their propaganda.” 3
Even on the award-winning Leaky Cauldron website, in a particularly extensive Obscurus Books forum thread called “Voldemort as a Villain,” many correspondents, myself included, have drawn comparisons between Death Eaters and Nazi followers, or, more tellingly, between Hitler himself and Voldemort.4 We learned from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that Voldemort had a Muggle father and a witch mother, and that during his childhood in a London orphanage, he learned to control and exploit others. Prior to Dumbledore inviting him to Hogwarts, Tom Riddle, as he was known then, took fellow orphans Amy Benson and Dennis Bishop down to a cave where he allegedly tortured them.
According to a CIA analysis of Hitler, he came from “illiterate peasant stock derived from a mixture of races. His father was illegitimate. . . Hitler’s mother was a domestic servant. It is said that his father’s father was a Jew and it is certain that his godfather was a Jew.” 5 Other similarities Hitler had in common with Voldemort included megalomaniacal tendencies and “a fixed determination to repress [feelings of weakness, timidity], and to condemn them in others.” 6 Hitler, too, insisted on always being right, with enormous discrimination towards others and an appetite for power. As a tyrannical leader who behaved without conscience and who authorised followers to do the same, Hitler, like Voldemort, could be regarded as having a psychopathic personality. Both were known for their connections with the conservative, titled, ruling class (and their money); in Hitler’s case, this included disgruntled Freikorps officers who felt that Germany had had a raw deal from the Versailles Treaty which concluded World War One.
However, this murderous ruthlessness is characteristic not only of Voldemort and Hitler, but other tyrannical leaders as well; for example, the Emperor Nero, or Cesare Borgia, on whom Machiavelli’s The Prince was based. Furthermore, there were important differences between Hitler and Lord Voldemort. Primarily, Voldemort hankered after immortality, wanting to stay alive at all costs and stopping at nothing to ensure that he would live on. Not for him was suicide, nor the last-minute marriage to a faithful female companion, unlike Hitler. Even the Death Eaters seem less organised than Hitler’s Nazi hierarchy, despite their Ku Klux Klan-style racism and bullying riots in Goblet of Fire’s Quidditch World Cup. Still, some of the second-guessing of the leader’s reactions or wishes, plus jockeying for position, and inability to tolerate dissent, seem alike in both organisations.
Another correspondence between Harry Potter’s world and the Third Reich is in the corruption and compromise evident in both worlds. These occurrences include, among other events, Hermann Goering’s saying that he “didn’t know anything of these huge crimes,” 7 or defendants in subsequent trials who pleaded they merely obeyed orders, just like the Death Eaters who pleaded they’d “been acting under the Imperius curse.” 8 It isn’t too much of a stretch to suspect that most Nazi offenders had not actually practised their old belief systems under duress, similar to lapsed Death Eaters who went back to Voldemort’s rebirthing so readily.
The denial by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, that Voldemort had arisen echoes Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” statements which preceded the inevitable declaration of World War Two. Fudge might have been scared of losing the stability of the magical world that he had guaranteed to the Muggle British Prime Minister, having said “It’s odds on you’ll never see me again.” 9 But Fudge was not the only one in denial of the truth, as the subsequent careers of Dolores Umbridge and Percy Weasley demonstrate. This behavior also echoes the denial during the Third Reich among some of the German people themselves. As one witness said in Bernt Engelmann’s 1989 account of day-to-day life in wartime Germany:
“To my mind, no measure could be considered excessive when it was a question of eliminating poverty and bringing about stability. At the time I didn’t realise that most of it was simply propaganda, and as for the many unpleasant side effects, I told myself they were none of my business. After all, I wasn’t Jewish, nor was I a Social Democrat, nor a Communist. So I kept quiet, and consoled myself with the thought that this must be a passing phase. I dare say many people felt as I did.” 10
Also, the political pressure Fudge exerted on the press by “leaning on the Prophet,” 11 as well as that paper’s innuendo which Harry had to endure, and the Quick Quotes Quill reporting style of Rita Skeeter, may all be vaguely reminiscent of the Third Reich’s propaganda machine under Joseph Goebbels. But a government-controlled press, as well as Umbridge’s suppression of different points of view (such as Harry’s disclosure to The Quibbler of the return of Voldemort), are equally typical of other totalitarian governments. Such ideologies try to control what news their readers see, and what their readers think. Although the sorts of corrupt incidents like Willie Widdershin’s spying on the formation of Dumbledore’s Army, Lucius Malfoy’s well-placed bribery, or the establishment of groups like the Inquisitorial Squad might mirror Third Reich activities, such activities are not exclusive to the Third Reich. Nor was the risk of imprisonment or death for members of underground movements exclusive to World War Two, but was also accepted by members of groups like the Order of the Phoenix, in opposition to corrupt and authoritarian regimes.
The totalitarian methods of Fudge and Barty Crouch Sr., like imprisonment without trial, hostile media-inspired kangaroo courts, and the authorisation of unforgivable curses of control, torture and execution, are not the sole preserve of regimes like the Third Reich. Such methods can happen in relatively moderate societies, in times of disorder and fear, when enough ordinary people like Vernon Dursley trumpet unthinkingly judgmental views “that hanging’s the only way to deal with such people.” 12 What would Vernon Dursley have said if, afterwards, he had learned that the criminal he wanted hung was innocent of all charges? Complain of the government becoming a police state? Even Markus Wolf’s East Germany, which did adopt such methods, including the Stasi secret police (which held the Nazis in abhorrence), managed a far more intrusive tyranny than did the Third Reich. After all, the Gestapo “had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million. By contrast, the East German Communist Stasi employed 102,000 agents to control only 17 million.” 13 It seems that the Gestapo, with one officer per 2,000 people, could let people at least eat in peace, whereas the Stasi, with one agent per 166 people, could theoretically have informers present at every dinner party.
In fact, some Germans under the Third Reich got away with more than one would expect. Thousands of Jews owed their lives to being hidden in cupboards, cellars or any other place a neighbour or friend could squirrel them away. These “submarines” 14 often survived for months, even years, in such conditions, preserved by their fellow human beings in the sorts of underground networks Bernt Engelmann also mentioned. It seems that even in the Third Reich, it was possible to have choices between what was right and what was easy. This applied to even the likes of Albert Goering, Hermann’s brother, who saved many lives through his connections. On the other hand, J.K. Rowling has said “Oppressed people are not, generally speaking, people who stand together – no, sadly, they kind of subdivide among themselves and fight like hell.” 15 This, too, was true of the oppressed of the Third Reich, some of whom did deals, betrayed each other, and did everything in their power to stay alive at someone else’s expense. In that same interview, J.K. Rowling referred to the “loathsome pecking order” some oppressed people engage in, like the witches and wizards of Harry’s world. This becomes just as discriminatory as the prejudice directed against them by the larger community. It is also telling that Tom Riddle’s mother’s magical family were every bit as prejudiced as his Muggle father’s family.
Current events show that the Third Reich was neither the first nor the last bigoted, prejudiced, and racist regime. Undoubtedly, some modern regimes or political parties, even religious groups or individuals, seem just as ready to annihilate people with different beliefs, languages, or ethnicity. Sometimes, such bigotry might be a consequence of an oppressively bureaucratic and corrupt government, like the Ministry of Magic as depicted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. But it isn’t fair to damn as equally bigoted and oppressive all countries who have had totalitarian governments. Bulgaria, a German ally from March 1941, refused German pressure to declare war on Russia. Local pressure, including the efforts of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and those of King Boris, ensured the survival of Bulgarian Jewry. Occupied Denmark made extraordinary efforts to save their own Jewish citizens, and only the Danish Red Cross sought to inspect German concentration camps like Theresienstadt. Spain, run by a Fascist government, remained neutral through World War Two. In pursuit of a refugee policy no less humane than other European neutral or allied governments, Spain saved approximately 28, 000 refugees and fugitives.
By contrast, in Britain, which had its own Fascist party, there could still be ignorant, ill-educated individuals. Michelle Magorian’s novel, set in London during the Blitz, showed how some British citizens were capable of the same sort of atrocities as happened in the Third Reich. It isn’t impossible to believe that an orphan like Tom Riddle could eventually become Lord Voldemort, considering that he grew up in London during World War Two, where help was hard to get and half-understood prejudices could still hold sway. Nor is it too difficult to imagine that various minority groups who are currently treated with prejudice or fear, or exploited like the house-elves represented on the Fountain of Magical Brethren, could be as disaffected, angry and bitter as the centaurs, goblins and giants of Harry Potter’s world. Or that people without understanding or compassion, with views not too dissimilar to the Nazis or Death Eaters, whatever their roots, could still cause untold trouble today.
The Death Eaters, though similar to the Nazis, are not part of an allegory of the Third Reich. The Harry Potter series is set in Britain, and British strengths and weaknesses are the ones represented. Whether the Gaunts, clinging to old glories and tradition, the rich Riddles, who consider the Gaunts no better than tramps, or the Dursleys, who consider as average and normal their punitively conservative views of anyone different from themselves, they are all identifiably British. And it is in British society and traditions, as well as in the larger, worldwide and human society, that Dumbledore’s message resonates: “It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 16
1. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. 2000. “Entertainment Weekly interview.” Madame Scoop’s Index to JK Rowling Interviews. The Floo Network. 12 Dec 2005. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2000/0900-ew-jensen.htm.
2. Caroline. “Harry Potter and the Third Reich”. Mugglenet. 22 Dec 2005. http://www.mugglenet.com/infosection/opinion/third.shtml.
3. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. FAQ question: Why are some people in the WizardingWorld called ‘half-blood’ even though both their parents were magical?. 2005. J.K. Rowling Official Site. 30 Dec 2005. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=58.
4. Leaky Lounge. 2005. “Voldemort as a Villain,” topic thread 2, Obscurus Books forum in Flourish and Blotts. 17th January,2006. http://www.leakylounge.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?s=81f8da5ad392ecda533b00c25d964376;act=ST;f=65;t=19743;st=90.
5. Murray, Dr Henry A. 1943. “Analysis of the personality of Adolph Hitler.” April 2005. Cornell Law Library. Cornell University. 17 Jan 2006. http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/library/donovan/hitler/.
7. British Broadcasting Commission. 2005. Hitler’s Henchmen in the Dock. Saturday, 19 November, 2005. BBC News, World edition. 1 Jan 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4452302.stm.
8. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. p. 461.
9. Ibid. p. 11.
10. Engelmann, Bernt. In Hitler’s Germany; Everyday Life in the Third Reich. London: This edition. Methuen, 1989. p. 13.
11. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p. 501.
12. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. p. 19.
13. Lebor, Adam & Roger Boyes. Surviving Hitler; Corruption and Compromise in the Third Reich. London: Pocket Books, 2000. p. 3.
14. Ibid. p. 7.
15. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. 2000. “Entertainment Weekly interview.” 31 Dec, 2005. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2000/0900-ew-jensen.htm.
16. Rowling, Joanne Kathleen. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. p. 245.
Bibliography and Further Reading
Arendt, Hannah. 1970. Eichmann in Jerusalem, a report on the banality of evil. 1970. Viking Press. 17th January 2006. http://www.b-info.com/places/Bulgaria/Jewish/Eichmann.shtml.
British Broadcasting Commission. 2005. Hitler’s Henchmen in the Dock. Saturday, 19 November, 2005. BBC News. World edition. 1 January 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4452302.stm.
Coffta, David J. 1996. Nero (54-68 AD) De imperatoribus Romanis: an online encyclopedia of Roman Emperors. 18 January 2006. http://www.roman-emperors.org/nero.htm.
Engelmann, Bernt. In Hitler’s Germany; Everyday Life in the Third Reich. London: 1989. This edition, Methuen.
Holocaust Encyclopedia. 2005. Rescue in Denmark. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. New York. 17th January 2006. http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/denmark.htm.
Infoplease Encyclopedia. 2000-2005. “Borgia, Cesare or Caesar.” Pearson Education. Sydney, Australia. 17 January 2006. http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0808360.html.
Jackson, Justice Robert. 1946. “Summation for the prosecution by Justice Robert Jackson.” July 26th, 1946, especially pages 19-24. University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. University of Missouri-Kansas City. 17 January 2006. http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/nuremberg/Jacksonclose.htm.
Leaky Lounge. 2005. “Voldemort as a Villain,” topic thread 1. Obscurus Books forum in Flourish and Blotts. 17th January, 2006. http://www.leakylounge.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?s=81f8da5ad392ecda533b00c25d964376;act=ST;f=65;t=16980;st=160.
———. 2005. “Voldemort as a Villain,” topic thread 2. Obscurus Books forum in Flourish and Blotts. 17th January, 2006. http://www.leakylounge.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?s=81f8da5ad392ecda533b00c25d964376;act=ST;f=65;t=19743;st=90.
Lebor, Adam & Roger Boyes. Surviving Hitler; Corruption and Compromise in the Third Reich. London:Pocket Books, 2000.
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. London: This television tie-in special edition. Lions, 1988.
Magorian, Michelle. Goodnight Mister Tom. London: Puffin Books, 1996.
Mugglenet Opinion. 2005. “Harry Potter and the Third Reich.” Mugglenet. 22 Dec 2005. http://www.mugglenet.com/infosection/opinion/third.shtml.
Murray, Dr Henry A. 1943. “Analysis of the personality of Adolph Hitler.” April 2005. Cornell Law Library. Cornell University. 17 Jan 2006. http://www.lawschool.cornell.edu/library/donovan/hitler/.
Petropoulos, Jonathan .1997. “Co-opting Nazi Germany: Neutrality in Europe during World War II.” From Dimensions, a journal of Holocaust studies, Vol 11, No. 1. Anti-Defamation League’s Braun Holocaust Institute. 17 January 2006. http://www.adl.org/Braun/dim_14_1_neutrality_europe.asp
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury,1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. 2000. “Entertainment Weekly interview.” 31/12/05. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2000/0900-ew-jensen.htm.
———. 2005. “FAQ question: Why are some people in the Wizarding World called ‘half-blood’ even though both their parents were magical?” 30 Dec 2005. J.K. Rowling Official Site. http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/faq_view.cfm?id=58.
Scullard, H. H. From the Gracchi to Nero: a history of Rome from 133 BC to A.D.68. London: Methuen.3rd edition, 1973.
Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, translated by Robert Graves. 1957. London: Penguin Classics, 1975.
Tacitus. The Annals of Imperial Rome. Revised edition. Translated by Robert Graves. 1957.London: Penguin Classics, 1975.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2005) “Cesare Borgia” - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.17 January 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cesare_Borgia.
———. (2005) “Nazi Germany” - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 17 January 2006. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Reich.
www.thinkpotter.org. 2005 “Two Feet of Parchment Thread”. 17 Jan 2006. http://s4.invisionfree.com/thinkpotter/index.php?s=1ecf4b7a609dfc61174acc429fcd88bb&showforum=3.