children's books

Roald Dahl’s Secret History of Anti-Semitism

roald dahl

Exactly 100 years ago, the beloved children’s author Roald Dahl was born. He is famous for writing “Matilda” and “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” which were also turned into iconic films. For many, Dahl is seen as a literary hero. For some, however, this is not the case.

While he is well-known for his endless and pure imagination, he was also anti-Semitic. Which is, you know, not cool. For instance, he told the New Statesman in 1983:

“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; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason. I mean, if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they [the Jews] were always submissive.”

Well, that’s a doozy. As if that’s not bad enough, he also stated that he was “anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic” in 1990 in the Independent. According to the Forward, however, Donald Sturrock wrote in his “authorized” biography, “Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl”, that Dahl claimed he had “quite a few pints of Jewish blood” in his veins. Very strange indeed.

So, what does this mean for those of us that want to celebrate an artist like Dahl, but don’t support his speech or actions? Well, confused fans have two options: Either you separate Dahl from his terrible anti-Semitism and appreciate only his art (because in many ways, a lot of the famous artists and writers, living or dead, are imperfect–and who knows what skeletons many of them have hidden).

Or, you don’t, which is OK, because there’s plenty of other children’s books authors you can read and expose your kids to. Of course, that being said, we cannot shield our children from wrongful ideas, but hope that we instill in them a sense of ethics, morality, and empathy–which Dahl definitely lacked in many ways.


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Joanna Valente

Joanna Valente is the Editorial Assistant at Kveller. She is the author of Sirs & Madams The Gods Are Dead, and Marys of the Sea (forthcoming), and received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. You can follow her @joannasaid on Twitter, @joannacvalente on Instagram, or email her at joanna@kveller.com.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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