Harry Potter and the Rise of Nazism
In 2004, J. K. Rowling recounted visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. She described her shock and disgust at realizing “that the Nazis used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters” in identifying people who did not have pure “Aryan” blood (Johnston). Since then, the racism and corruption in Harry Potter have grown deeper and more unmistakable with each volume. In fact, the Harry Potter series recreates the climate leading to World War Two in its entirety, detailing the depression and corruption that can send a society into madness.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is rife with prejudice. Muggle-born wizards are denied status because of their “inferior blood.” Centaurs are confined to ghettos and werewolves denied work, much like the marginalized Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals in 1930’sGermany. Toward the middle of the Harry Potter series, this world slides irrevocably into totalitarianism, with Minister Fudge fearfully snatching power by corrupting education, the media, and the justice system with help from his High Inquisitor, Dolores Umbridge. “We are poised on the brink,” Headmaster Dumbledore warns, but it is a brink far viler than the Wizarding World anticipates. With the weakened government and Fudge’s feeble policies of appeasement and denial, the evil Voldemort glides in, conquers the Wizarding World, and begins a regime unmistakable to students of history. “Muggle-borns are weakening us,” he declaims. “We need a society of pure blood wizards ruling, for the good of the lesser races.” With this, Muggle-borns are expelled from Hogwarts and must report to a “Muggle-born registration committee” where they sit quaking in lines as dementors glide by. One man who protests is threatened with the dementors’ lethal kiss, like a single protestor overpowered by Nazi rifles.
Other allusions to the Second World War abound in the series, from Dumbledore’s climactic battle in 1945 which ended World War Two in the Wizarding World to Nurmengard prison, where wizard supremacist Gellert Grindelwald spends his life with his motto of “For the Greater Good” tattooed above the door. Grindelwald hails from the German-named Durmstrang, which welcomes only the Wizard-born students and produces Death Eaters, torturers, and bigots. He plans “a new Wizarding Order” through racial superiority, a program that clearly echoes Hitler’s agenda. The timeframes, locations, and dogma coincide: can we doubt that Grindelwald and Hitler worked together?
In the end, the greatest link between these two wars is their ideologies: a society where the pure-born race dominates the world under a dictator who preaches hypocrisy and violence to advance his power. Harry Potter defeats this world, proving that only vigilance can prevent Nazism’s return.
||Voldemort’s Timeline (Some events are out of order to better show historic parallels).
|World War I ended a generation before, in 1918.
||War against Voldemort ended one generation before
|1924 Hitler arrested and jailed. In jail, he solidifies his policies.
||Voldemort is “a shadow of his former self.” He schemes to regain power.
|He writes Mein Kampf, an explanation of his racist policies.
||Voldemort’s diary appears, with a younger self who is heir to Slytherin and determined to kill the Muggle-borns of Hogwarts.
||Depression in Wizarding and Muggle Worlds
|The Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935 deprived German Jews of their rights of citizenship, giving them the status of “subjects” in Hitler’s Reich. They analyzed how much “blood” made someone Jewish.
||Issue of Mudbloods in Chamber of Secrets. Treatment of house-elves and other discriminated races. Later, Muggle-borns must register in brutal trials, facing wand confiscation and imprisonment.
|Aug 1, 1936 – Olympic games begin in Berlin, as a show of good relations.
||Death Eater Demonstration at World Cup
|1933 Nazis stage boycott of Jewish shops and businesses.
|1936 Hitler remilitarizes theRhineland, unopposed
||Voldemort returns to a body, but the Wizarding World doesn’t unite against him.
|1936-1939 Spanish Civil War—Hitler holds back, allowing the two sides to destroy each other
||Fudge and Dumbledore have conflicting agendas—Voldemort stays hidden, allowing them to battle
|Prime Minister Churchill attempts appeasement since he can’t face another world war.
||Minister of Magic Fudge denies Voldemort’s return since he can’t face another wizarding war.
|Weak Prime Minister Chamberlain replaced by stronger Churchill
||Weak Minister of Magic Fudge replaced by stronger Scrimgeour
|Feb 28, 1933 Law for the Protection of People and State: civil liberties suspended. Gleichschaltung, the process of exerting totalitarian control overGermany, begins.
||Voldemort takes over the ministry, newspapers, compulsory education, secret police, propaganda, and more in a new totalitarian regime.
|Jul 6, 1933 At a gathering of high-ranking Nazi officials, Hitler declares the success of the National Socialist, or Nazi, revolution.
||Voldemort summons the Death Eaters and announces his return. He intends to kill Harry Potter to commemorate this.
|1937 Jews are banned from many professional occupations including teaching Germans.
||Muggles are forbidden to attend Hogwarts and their wands are confiscated.
|1938 Nazis order Jews to registerJewish pupils are expelled from all non-Jewish German schools.
||Muggle Registration ActMuggle-borns expelled from Hogwarts
|Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass.
||Random murders of Muggles
|Sept 1, 1939 Hitler invadesPoland, begins World War II
||Voldemort kills Scrimgeour and begins open war against the Wizarding World
|1939 Political uncertainty, Churchill’s defiant speech
||Dumbledore’s speech at the end of Goblet of Fire: “We are facing dark and difficult times but must stand together.”
Prejudice against every possible minority group has characterized both the Wizarding World andEuropefor centuries, plunging them into devaluation of key support groups. Hitler didn’t create anti-Semitism inEurope—he only exploited the preexisting fears. Throughout Europe, Jews were different, with their own foods, laws, religion, language, and customs. As far back as the Middle Ages, as people groped for supernatural explanations, they blamed their Jewish neighbors for poisoning wells, spreading plagues, and killing children, all based on rumor and superstition.Venicewas the first place to create the ghetto in the 1200s, where Jews were confined. Outside it, they had to wear special badges, with both practices paving the way for later Nazi regulations. Jews, forbidden many professions, turned to commerce and banking in later centuries; as some few became as rich as the Rothschilds, envy descended. Expulsion from Western European countries was common, while in the East, millions died in pogroms and massacres (Gutman 97-98).
The more modern and disturbing aspect of anti-Semitism (a word coined by a German in the 1870s) is its pseudo-biology (Gutman 96). Through Hitler’s propaganda, Jews were labeled as genetically different from Aryans, with corrupted “blood”:
The Nazis believed that Jews were a different race than Aryan Germans, and that the economic, cultural, and political lives and values of Jews and Aryan Germans were determined by their very different and quite incompatible biological natures. In Hitler’s eyes, Jews could never become Aryan Germans because each of the two races had different and opposed “blood,” or what we might call genetic makeup. (Crew 65).
As early as February 24, 1920, a Nazi party program explained, “None but members of the nation may be citizens of the state. None but those of German blood, whatever their creed, may
be members of the nation. No Jew therefore may be a member of the nation” (Crew 42). Even a converted Jew and his grandchildren were considered member of the “Jewish race”— a complete genetic fallacy. “Anthropologists who have classified human races deny the existence of a Semitic race” and admit only to a family of Semitic languages including Arabic and Hebrew (Gutman 96). Many Israelis are light-skinned and blond, while many Germans are dark and fit Hitler’s stereotypes. Hitler himself was short and dark. Thus Hitler’s policies were as logically unsound as those of slave owners and Death Eaters—thin justifications for murder and degradation.
In Harry Potter’s world, being pure blood makes all the difference. “The Wizarding World is divisible into three main classes by purity: pure-blood, half-blood, and Muggle-born… Blood purity fanatics regard half-bloods as an inferior kind of wizard, though they think of them as superior to Muggle-born wizards,” Craig L. Foster explains in his essay, “Where Have All the Pure-Bloods Gone?” Salazar Slytherin, one of the four Hogwarts founders, wanted to deny entry to students of mixed blood, and centuries later, his ideas still linger. The first time Harry meets Draco, Draco asks about Harry’s parentage and says, “I really don’t think they should let the other sort in, do you? They’re just not the same; they’ve never been brought up to know our ways…I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families” (Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone 61). All Slytherin characters begin with the assumption that pure-blood wizards have more talent, showing how far the stereotype has spread. Even the “good Slytherin” Horace Slughorn apes this attitude, as Harry considers him “much too surprised that a Muggle-born should make a good witch” (Rowling, Half Blood 74). Thus, as John Granger, celebrated Potter scholar, notes, the prejudicial structure is already in place, simply awaiting Voldemort’s exploitation:
This blind spot in the consciousness of wizards, their exclusive hold of power and misuse of those they think of as “brethren” as well as their totally marginalized others, is the agony of the wizarding world and the cause of the Voldemort crisis. Lord Voldemort, the Nazi and totalitarian madman of these books, is anything but an incomprehensible and aberrational evil without beginning or cause. He is only the logical extension and symptom of the prejudice against all non-wizards held by all witches and wizards with few exceptions. (“Disney Does Derrida” 5)
Of course, Muggle-born Hermione is the best in her class, quickest to master most of the lessons. Meanwhile Neville Longbottom is pure-blood and, according to Ron Weasley, he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up (Rowling, Chamber 89). Clearly, the blood prejudice is a fallacy. It continues past pure-blood or Muggle-born status into half-blood and other such meaningless distinctions. As Ron explains, “Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out” (Rowling, Chamber 89). Even the “Toujours pur” Blacks have Muggles on the family tree, much as they try to hide them behind burn marks.
All the same, many pure-blood families devote themselves to eugenics, like the sallow and inbred Gaunts (Voldemort’s mother’s side), living in squalor, with nothing to brag about but their bloodline. While the male Gaunts are too insular to even leave home, Voldemort’s obsession with world power is in part fueled by the opposite side of his ancestry: he longs to have wealth in Gringotts, respect from pure-bloods, and everything else he was denied as he suffered in a Muggle orphanage. In fact, we learn that Voldemort’s father was a Muggle, much as he tries to hide this by discarding his original name of “Tom Riddle.” As author Peg Kerr notes, “It is clear that Voldemort has been suppressing the truth about his heritage, as
evidenced by Bellatrix Lestrange’s rage at the very suggestion that Voldemort is a half-blood during the battle at the Ministry of Magic (6). As he remakes himself into the purest dark wizard of them all, he covers his former identity in a blanket of prejudice and denial, though it still finds outlets: Voldemort attacks Harry Potter as a child because he considers Harry, the half-blood, a more powerful wizard than Neville. As Dumbledore explains, “He [Voldemort] chose, not the pureblood (which according to his creed is the only kind of wizard worth being or knowing) but the half-blood, like himself” (Rowling, Order 842). Even Voldemort himself doesn’t believe his ideology. Family purity is false superiority, nothing more.
We see the Death Eaters aping this hypocrisy over and over: Umbridge, first a stooge for the corrupt ministry and then a collaborator of Voldemort’s, is one of the worst offenders, replacing fact with her own pseudo-science. She repeatedly calls centaurs “half breeds,” ignoring the fact that they are a separate race and not part-humans. In the final book, Umbridge tells the quaking Mrs. Cattermole that “Wands only choose witches or wizards. You are not a witch” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 261), all because her parents were greengrocers. Mrs. Cattermole has been taken in “for questioning” in a test of bloodline rather than magical ability, and despite Ministry attempts to prove otherwise, Muggle-borns can certainly do magic. This false science and dependence on genetic purity harkens back to the false scientific claims of many groups as they tried to prove genetics made their race “superior”:
Similarities between the turn-of-the-century southern states and, more particularly, Nazi
Germanyand the Wizarding World are hauntingly and disturbingly close. Muggle-born and halfblood witches and wizards are not only looked down upon by pure-blood fanatics who fear what they view as polluting and diluting pure-blood, but even pure-bloods who are sympathetic toward the others are hated and called blood traitors. And, Muggle-born witches and wizards are called Mudbloods, a derogatory term meaning their blood was dirty rather than pure (Foster).
The mention of southern states here is eerily apt. For the Wizarding World does employ slaves treated far more cruelly than Muggle-borns: the house elves. Tiny Dobby describes his situation as “enslavement,” forced by his own magic to punish himself for disobedience, and follow every command to the letter, even those against his own conscience (Rowling, Chamber 133). Dobby gets death threats five times a day at the Malfoys, and a flogging for burning dinner. He calls his race “the lowly, the enslaved, us dregs of the magical world” (Rowling, Chamber 133). Slughorn, too, has a house-elf taste all his wine to test it for poison in a brutally callous abuse of power (Rowling, Half Blood 485). Kreacher is likewise enslaved by masters he detests: Sirius Black calls him vicious names and manhandles him, while Harry forces him to spy on his beloved Malfoy. Kreacher’s betrayal of Sirius, rather than an act of pure spite, is the only weapon entrapped Kreacher has to strike out with. As Dumbledore notes about the betrayal, “We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 833-834).
The problem is the house elves’ conditioning: they see it as their duty to love and protect their masters, and a betrayal to leave. House elves have powerful magic but “usually can’t use it without their masters’ permission” (Rowling, Chamber 27). They refer to themselves in third person (thus subordinating the self) and repeat that house elves should only try to please others, rather than be happy themselves. The Hogwarts kitchen elves, especially, are embarrassed by Dobby, the free elf they see as reaching above his station. One critic is deeply disturbed by these messages, “as Rowling reinscribes and normalizes the marginalized status” of these elves, and suggests “oppressed people can and should be satisfied with their lot” (Heilman 245). The greatest problem is in fact psychological: even an elf like Dobby who longs for freedom and betrays his hated masters, the Malfoys, at each opportunity, passively waits for clothing in order to be freed. He feels he is bound, thus he cannot escape. As Karen A. Brown explains in Prejudice in Harry Potter’s World,
The very idea that he [Dobby] “needs to be freed” by his masters is a mitigated form of mental bondage: The slave has the ability to leave the master at any time, but the walls inside his mind (mostly fear) hinder him from making such an empowered decision (111).
Dobby, despite his powerful magic, believes he is physically bound by the rules: even years after gaining his freedom, he still punishes himself for speaking ill of his former masters. Most wizards perpetuate this system, rejecting Dobby as a paid employee because “That’s not the point of a house elf” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 330). Clearly, the wizards don’t understand that these powerfully magical creatures have not always been enslaved. After centuries of elf subordination, both masters and slaves believe this is the natural order, and perpetuate the unjust system (Brown 113). Only Hermione, an unindoctrinated bystander, can see elf-life for the vicious exploitation it truly is, and she devotes her life to changing it. This will take time: The Hogwarts elves view her as “mad and dangerous” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 539) and feel insulted by her gifts of clothes, showing how uncomfortable they feel outside their well-defined roles in the kitchen. Clearly, the damage that the wizards have caused for centuries won’t disappear overnight.
Nazi Germany used slave labor within the work camps and ghettos, provided by groups the Nazis deemed sub-human. Like the wizards, the Nazis planned education and indoctrination, teaching subject races to take pride in serving their “betters” and providing necessary functions. In a memorandum to Hitler datedMay 25, 1940, Heinrich Himmler explained what the Nazi control ofPolandwould mean for the subject peoples with their high Jewish and Slavic populations:
For the non-German population of the East there must be no higher school than the four-grade elementary school. The sole goal of this school is to be simple arithmetic—[being able to count] up to five hundred at the most,- writing of one’s name,- the doctrine that it is a divine law to obey the Germans and to be honest, industrious, and good. I don’t think that reading is necessary. Apart from this school there are to be no schools at all in the East. . . .The population will, as a people of laborers without leaders, be at our disposal and will furnishGermanyannually with migrant workers and with workers for special tasks (roads, quarries, buildings) (Crew 101).
This doctrine of brainwashing and directed education was intended to leave the Eastern countries slaves to Germany based on their alleged genetic inferiority, accepting abuse and degradation as their due. Thus, offered minimal education and indoctrination to German pre-eminence, the Polish people would become willing manual laborers and near-slaves, suited for nothing else and, over time, accepting their new position.
Worse off still are the races judged “evil” and “beastly,” rather than useful to the current regime. One critic comments that veelas, giants, and werewolves, “although these are all human-like creatures…are portrayed as being substandard, like the elves.”(Heilman and Gregory 251). Wizards regard giants as bloodthirsty savages, who have nearly killed one another into extinction through their own brutality. Yet, Hagrid, the most gentle adult in series, and the only one entrusted with baby Harry, is half-giant. In addition, this extinction is actually caused by wizards, who confined giants to a progressively smaller area. As Granger notes:
The giants are perhaps Ms. Rowling’s caricature of traditional people hounded onto reservations and into ghettos who have become only the monstrous shadow of their former greatness. The dementors, too, are an excellent depiction of what a nightmare a magical creature can become when confined to the narrow existence of their worst traits by government policy – and the repercussions on society when released from their confinement by a greater evil (“Disney Does Derrida” 5).
Fleur is not mistreated because of her Veela blood, but Lupin is discriminated against time and again, all within the law. He loses all possibility of employment thanks to Umbridge, and grows shabbier and shabbier. Though he’s an excellent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, he’s fired, as parents “wouldn’t want” a werewolf teaching their students. He only attends Hogwarts in the first place on a condition of total secrecy to protect not only the students but also their sensibilities.
It’s no wonder goblins, merfolk, and centaurs remain hostile and apart: they have limited choices in the Wizarding World: brainwashed servitude like house elves or classification as dangerous monsters. The goblins have found in niche in the banking system where they work well, despite Bill’s warnings that they shouldn’t be trusted, thanks to all the bad blood and hostility between species. The merfolk and centaurs keep themselves apart, though they willingly help the kindly Dumbledore, who provides the exception to every racial rule. The greatest problem is the lack of governmental representation, allowing wizards unlimited exploitation:
Don’t look for representatives of even the centaurs, goblins, and house-elves in the Ministry of Magic. There may be a Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Magical Creatures at the Ministry but the prejudice against nonwizards is universal enough that there are no Magical Brethren in the Ministry or liaisons to these groups. (Granger, “Disney Does Derrida” 4-5)
Thus, in both worlds, genetics are exploited to claim the pure-blooded master race is the most powerful, and all other races only suited to serve them. This is best exemplified by the Ministry of Magic statue fount called “The Fountain of Magical Brethren,” with its false depictions and stereotypes:
A group of golden statues, larger than lifesize, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin, and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 127)
Here the witch, centaur, goblin, and elf all regard the wizard admiringly and artificially, while other despised races such as giants and werewolves don’t appear at all. Without an overwhelming change in perception, the false stereotypes and exploitation will continue indefinitely.
Totalitarianism throughout history involves control of every aspect of society, including suppression of the free press, appointment of fanatically devoted followers to key positions, deportation of malcontents, directed compulsory education, recruitment, propaganda, secret police with unlimited power, censorship, biased trials, scapegoating, and torture as a means of interrogation. “The perfectly primitive Nazi conception of the conduct of a state was, that one had to annihilate or render harmless all adversaries or suspected adversaries,” David Crew explains in Hitler and the Nazis: A History in Documents (54). While Hitler employed all these methods, the Ministry of Magic, even before Voldemort, shows similar signs of ambition. First Minister of Magic Fudge takes a stranglehold on the government, aided by his willing follower, Dolores Umbridge. He then weakens and corrupts the government to the point where Voldemort can easily take over and recruit many of Fudge’s disciples through prejudice and misinformation. From there, Voldemort can become the new dictator in a reign of corruption reminiscent of Nazism at its worst.
Historically, Hitler began his campaign during a heavy depression. In 1919, “All the assumptions of national life were denied by defeat, famine, disorder, the war-guilt accusation, the loss of the colonies,” and much more (Wiskemann 36). One of the key provisions of the Versailles Treaty was Article 231, the so-called War Guilt Clause, which madeGermanyaccept complete responsibility for starting World War I. That and the demand for financial reparations in Article 232 created incredible anger and frustration at the unjust punishment for the recovering nation: Thanks to the ending of World War One, the Germans had humiliating, crushing reparations to repay at a time when their own country needed the funds (Crew 24). Inflation skyrocketed, and there was a constant fear of succumbing to a communist revolution that would destroy the shaky framework of their society (Crew 19). The winter of 1929 saw three million unemployed inGermany(Wiskemann 83); theWeimarleaders were helpless to prevent the massive unemployment caused by the worldwide Great Depression. The people were desperate for change, enabling Hitler to easily take power.
Hitler created the SA (Storm Troopers in English) to protect Nazi party meetings, but this quickly changed to smashing meetings of their political opponents. Hitler’s storm troopers recruited “adolescents who in other times and countries have formed into fighting gangs,” (Wiskemann 87), refining their anger into brutality. One ten-year-old in a Hitler Youth organization later recalled discipline and political indoctrination, as he added:
At the induction ceremony, my spine tingled in the conviction that I now belonged to something both majestic and threatened by bitter enemies…I accepted the two basic tenets of the Nazi creed: belief in the innate superiority of the Germanic-Nordic race, and the conviction that total submission to Germany and to the Fuhrer was our first duty (Crew 89-90).
Thus, unemployed, restless teens turned to devoted followers, a future army pledged to violence in the protection of their ideals. Nazism had begun.
The Wizarding World is in a more literal type of depression. Gray fog coats the land and dementors wander freely, dispensing panic and despair. “They’re the creatures that drain hope and happiness out of people,” (Rowling, Half Blood 14) as Minister Fudge explains, and they’re breeding in the misery shrouding the populace. Chilly mist in July is only one symptom: Wizards barricade themselves in their homes and expect thugs and murderers daily. The newspapers catalogue murders but few arrests. Worst of all, the Ministry and its regulations prove utterly useless against the threat.
The Ministry of Magic is, as celebrated Potter-critic John Granger puts it, “a gaggle of self-important airheads busying themselves with laughable trivia (cauldron bottom reports) or international bread-and-circus functions like the Quidditch World Cup, while neglecting to take care of even their own” (Looking for God 54). Too often, the Ministry folds before the rich and powerful, censuring Arthur Weasley for his fondness for Muggles and granting special favors to Lucius Malfoy, who can always be found where he doesn’t belong. Justice is likewise corrupt:
The Wizengamot as we have seen it in Dumbledore’s Pensieve and in Harry’s hearing in Order of the Phoenix is either celebrity sham (Ludo Bagman standing in for OJ), Stalinist show trial with only the pretense of fairness, or an outright assault on the innocent in Harry’s case to advance a government position (Granger, “Disney Does Derrida” 9).
To appear proactive, the Ministry under Fudge sends the innocent Hagrid to Azkaban. Sirius Black later reveals his life sentence in Azkaban was just for the appearance of acting with strength: Both Fudge and his successor Scrimgeour want to be seen as in control of events, rather than events controlling them.
Likewise, Fudge recruits Dolores Umbridge, who would do absolutely anything for her beloved “Cornelius,” including cast Unforgivable Curses. Umbridge, of course, is best known for “her furious desire to bring every aspect of life at Hogwarts under her personal control” (Rowling, Order 551). In fact she deprives Harry of “everything that made his life at Hogwarts worth living: his visits to Hagrid’s house, letters from Sirius, his Firebolt, and Quidditch” (Rowling, Order 553). Mail is opened, owls are diverted and attacked, the Floo network is under surveillance. Umbridge’s Educational Directives cancel clubs and forbid teachers to say anything outside their subjects. She uses these directives as tools to exert pressure, even hesitating over allowing the Gryffindors to play Quidditch in order to punish Harry for his rebellious outspokenness. Umbridge recruits the Inquisitorial Squad, school bullies from Slytherin who punish fellow students because “you’re a Mudblood, Granger,” “I don’t like you, Potter,” (Rowling, Order 626), and other such violations of authority. Scarier still are the dementors the Ministry employs in the third and fifth books, welcome to murder wizards they find unprotected. Their prison, Azkaban, is “a psychic concentration camp where few survive” (Granger, Looking for God 54). The dementors torture those imprisoned there, sucking everything good and beautiful from their souls until only haggard, insane shells remain. All of these followers, from thugs to dementors, crave violence and cruelty, making them perfect followers for corrupt regimes.
Of course, despite his stranglehold on power, Fudge’s greatest mistake is underestimating Voldemort, just as Neville Chamberlain will be remembered throughout history for cedingCzechoslovakiato Hitler and discounting him as an enemy. As Churchill himself said, putting the most generous-possible spin on matters:
It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. (Churchill 87)
Chamberlain was tricked by Hitler while pursuing peace, but he allowed Hitler that foothold, even with his noble goal. Likewise, Fudge feels unequal to leading the war against Voldemort and clings stubbornly to appeasement and denial, speedily losing both popularity and credibility. As Dumbledore warns him, “Fail to act—and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!” (Rowling, Order 708). Fudge’s tool, the Daily Prophet, spends months discrediting Dumbledore and Harry Potter as outspoken whistle-blowers, and then, the instant Fudge relents, recants its position completely and “tells a story saying the complete opposite without a blush for the lies and distortions of the previous months” (Granger, Looking for God 53). These weak choices, like Chamberlain’s, mark Fudge as a failed leader. He, like Chamberlain, later assists the new stronger government in its fight against Voldemort, but that can’t atone for the foothold he allows the enemy.
Both worlds then appoint stronger leaders (Churchill for the British and Scrimgeour for the wizards), but it’s too late. The enemy has gained too much power, launching himself to the head of the strongest army of all: a totalitarian regime where questions are met by death and only one voice commands armies of true believers. Thus only one course remains: war.
While the SA were Hitler’s chosen force, after he became chancellor in 1933, he also used official government agencies to illegally detain those he considered a threat. After a Dutch anarchist set fire to the German parliament building in February 1933, the Nazis rounded up Communists and Socialists in hastily-assembled concentration camps; politicians, doctors, lawyers, and other leading citizens were likewise imprisoned and killed, in a total and unheard-of suspension of civil rights. In his testimony at the postwarNurembergtrials, Rudolf Diels, the first head of the Gestapo, described how these political prisoners were mistreated and sometimes murdered. Once in a concentration camp, no appeal was possible, no rights existed (Crew 53-55). Torture and murder were commonplace, even before the advent of the death camps. Some homosexuals were castrated in return for a release from the camps (where most were dying of starvation and disease), while other prisoners later succumbed to gruesome medical experiments (Crew 155).
From the Death Eaters’ first robed and masked appearance at the Triwizard Tournament, these henchmen appear like the KKK or SA, uniformed and determined to hide their identities. Many of Voldemort’s Snatchers are “uneducated boys who suddenly find themselves with extraordinary amounts of power” (Brown 84). One Potter critic calls the Slytherin students “the pragmatists, the careerists, the manipulators, and the deceivers, the power-hungry, and the just plain nasty” (Appelbaum 49). These words absolutely describe Hitler’s thugs. Some Snatchers are clearly caught up in the euphoria of targeting minority groups, free to unleash violence on the less fortunate. Other lieutenants like Bellatrix Lestrange display the fanatical devotion Voldemort expects from his inner circle, as she eagerly volunteers to murder her niece and offers her family home, Gringotts locker and life for Voldemort’s plans. Barty Crouch Junior spends a year befriending Harry at Voldemort‘s wishes. Even terrified Wormtail slices off his own hand to aid the Dark Lord. In just this way, “‘It is the Fuhrer’s order’ became the standard method of terminating opposition, for against that qualification there could be no appeal” (Lucas 15).
These disciples eagerly resort to torture, as Bellatrix does when she uses the brutal Cruciatus curse on the Longbottoms and Hermione Granger. Under Voldemort’s gaze, dementors flourish, draining the populace of hope and killing indiscriminately. Umbridge, first a follower of Fudge and then later accomplice of Voldemort, forces Harry to carve “I must not tell lies” on the back of his hand and then indulges in Veritaserum as a means of interrogation, drugging Harry without his knowledge. She manhandles Marietta, when the girl gives an answer she dislikes. Most frightening is her determination to use the Cruciatus curse on Harry, insisting that she’s left with no alternative and that “what Cornelius doesn’t know won’t hurt him” (Rowling, Order 746). She displays her sickening pleasure at hurting others, “panting slightly as she pointed her wand at different parts of Harry’s body in turn, apparently trying to decide what would hurt the most” (Rowling, Order 746-747). Her henchman, Filch, is likewise prepared to whip Fred and George Weasley for their pranks (Rowling, Order 674).
Under Voldemort’s regime, Hogwarts education becomes compulsory, as a recruitment center for pure-blood youth. “They don’t want to spill too much pure blood,” Neville explains, “so they’ll torture us a bit if we’re mouthy but they won’t actually kill us” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 574). Voldemort is even willing to give Neville, a pureblood from “noble stock” a second chance (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 731). “Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste,” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 659) he insists. Now all students learn the Dark Arts and the new Muggle studies. The latter covers “how Muggles are like animals, stupid and dirty, and how they drove wizards into hiding by being vicious to them, and how the natural order is being reestablished” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 574). This echoes Nazi propaganda about the menace of “the threat from the east” and how the Aryan race deserved to dominate the world. Children in elementary schools studied from teachers who believed in Hitler‘s philosophies and texts filled with “Nazi and militaristic doctrine” (Crew 147). Hitler Youth filled the schools, as his government emphasized Aryan values and German strengths.
Another symptom of totalitarianism is a ruthless suppression of the free media, leaving news loyal only to the new regime. Hitler and Stalin purged literature and the arts to reflect their regimes, rejecting modernism and clinging to national superiority (Wiskemann 128). On the tenth of May, 1933, the Nazis ceremonially burned all the books they could find by writers they distrusted (Wiskemann 98). Newspapers slanted facts and blasted propaganda, as when a seventeen-year-old Jew shot a German clerk in revenge for the deportation of his family, Reich
propaganda minister Goebbels claimed in a newspaper article that this shooting was the work of a “World Jewish Conspiracy” that wanted to destroyGermany. This November 1938 incident and the accompanying media explosion precipitated Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass, in which 7500 Jewish shop windows were smashed) in retribution. Newspapers proclaimed it a spontaneous eruption by the German people, but in reality, most of the violence was carried out by the SA and Nazi officials (Crew 79-80).
Still, freedom fighters published small papers and underground radio stations, determined to spread messages of hope and resistance. The Wizarding World has its counterparts: Many there secretly listen to Potterwatch, which is, as Ron puts it, “the only one [radio station] that tells the truth about what’s going on! Nearly all the programs are following You-Know-Who’s line, all except Potterwatch” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 437). Though the Death Eaters pay them “a number of house calls” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 438), Potterwatch stays under the radar and keeps broadcasting messages of hope and support.
The Daily Prophet is far from a free newspaper, as proved as early as book four, as reporter Rita Skeeter “writes unflattering, unkind, and rude pieces, several of which she makes up.” The Daily Prophet “intentionally creates or fosters prejudice against individuals and groups in toadying service to the government,” casting blame on Stan Shupike, Sirius Black and other innocents to cover its blunders (Granger, Looking for God 53). This abuse of the media intensifies in book five when it reports Harry insane and Voldemort’s return merely wild rumors. Only The Quibbler protests, printing the true story of Voldemort’s return and standing firmly behind Harry. The repercussions for this appear in the final book, as Lovegood’s daughter is kidnapped to threaten him into ceasing publication. The Quibblers he publishes under duress list Harry as Undesirable Number One. “They took my Luna,” he explains. “Because of what I’ve been writing.” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 419). The trio forgives him, understanding he has no choice. He’s finally imprisoned by Death Eaters.
Pictures of Hitler himself appeared on stamps, billboards, postcards, and far more, in order to create a “Hitler myth” of unheard-of popularity. After 1933, the Nazis monopolized the images produced in Germany, and spread this process to other countries after 1939. Posters and paintings of the Third Reich flourished, showing smiling Germans caring for local citizens and children (millions of whom they in fact murdered) (Crew 59). Nazis publicized that the inflation and depression of the 1920’s and ‘30s had been caused by “aliens from the East,” the accepted euphemism for foreign Jews. Everything from communism to World War One’s defeat was blamed on an “International Jewish Conspiracy.” Nazis filled airwaves with the “seduction of young German girls by ’alien’ doctors, stage producers and film directors” (Lucas 10). Similarly, Umbridge’s followers print pamphlets titled “Mudbloods and the danger they pose to a peaceful society.” The cover shows a rose “being strangled by a green weed with fangs and a scowl” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 249).
Together, all this propaganda, violence, and abandonment of civil rights help the government to control the population and direct its thoughts. Reeducation and scapegoating ensure loyalty, as the younger, more vicious teens find an outlet for violence, all encouraged and legalized by the totalitarian regime. Once these impressionable soldiers have pledged absolute loyalty to their leader and abandoned all judgment and responsibility, the violence truly begins.
WWII DIRECT ALLUSIONS
While totalitarianism and bigotry have appeared throughout many eras of history, the Harry Potter series also offers direct allusions to World War Two. The most significant of these is what several important characters (Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Grindelwald) were doing from 1939-1945, according to the official dates provided.
Tom Riddle began advocating the beliefs of Salazar Slytherin, that only purebloods should attend Hogwarts, in 1942 [Y-38], with the first opening of the Chamber of Secrets. (Ahmad) Thus, as young Voldemort was a developing student, he was mimicking Nazi ideologies from the great war being fought on his very doorstep.
The philosophy of Voldemort, which preaches that might makes right and that power goes beyond ideals of good and evil, is not very far away from the political conduct of Adolf Hitler. It can easily be argued that a young man like Riddle would admire that conduct, and see in Hitler’s madness a man casting away his boundaries and attempting to bring about his own personal ideals. (Ahmad)
As a child at theLondonorphanage, young Riddle would have known extreme poverty and possibly borderline starvation through the Great Depression. In his summers home from Hogwarts, he would have seen violence and despair as all ofLondonsuccumbed to aerial bombardment (Ahmad). As the bombs fell onLondon, Riddle surely cursed the Muggles so violent and brutal, so quick to starve children and raze the city around him. Moreover, he witnessed a world where Hitler took what he wished, citing racial superiority as a motive for controlling the “lesser races.” Surely Riddle observed this and began to ponder: if Muggles could preach genetic perfection, how much more so did pureblood wizards deserve to rule the world?
Still, World War Two was not fought solely in the Muggle World. Rowling stated in an interview, “It amuses me to make allusions to things that [are] happening in the Muggle world so my feeling would be that while there’s a global Muggle war going on, there’s also a global wizarding war going on” (“Bloomsbury Live Chat”). Indeed there was, particularly in the 1940’s.
From German Durmstrang comes famed dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who subverts the Deathly Hallows symbol, just as Hitler adapted the swastika. Grindelwald, who preaches Wizarding Rule through racial superiority, a program that clearly echoes Hitler’s agenda. The same time, the same country, the same ideology, the same defeat in 1945: can we doubt they were partners? Dumbledore describes “Muggles forced into subservience” and a revolution “all for the greater good” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 716). Grindelwald dreams of an army of Inferi, undead zombies that kill without remorse. He plans “a new Wizarding Order” with a vast following (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 566). Then Dumbledore’s sister dies, and young Dumbledore accepts that Grindelwald’s plans are too violent, too blind to the suffering of innocents. Grindelwald flees.
Still, his home ground of Durmstrang, quite a contrast from the genteel and light-hearted Hogwarts, remains significant. Critic David Colbert comments, “Durmstrang is a more severe place [than Hogwarts], breeding wizards who can’t be trusted—just as Eastern Europe has long been viewed by outsiders” (75). The students wear deep blood red and learn the Dark Arts, not just defense from them. Further, it does not admit Muggle-born students (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 165). Thus the school seems less enlightened than the British families where the pure-bloods are dying out and the majority of wizards welcome Muggle-borns. Durmstrang is a breeding ground for dark wizardry, as several Hogwarts teachers note: The students immediately sit at the Slytherin table. Though Krum plays Quidditch for Bulgaria, the school seems a blend of German and Slavic influences, as Dumbledore calls them simply “our friends from the North.” Headmaster Igor Karkaroff, dressed in furs, suggests a Russian origin, harkening to the Hitler-Stalin pact of the thirties. Whatever his nationality, Karkaroff is a known Death Eater, and as head of the school, he, like Dumbledore, has a heavy influence over his students. His prize student, Victor Krum performs the Cruciatus curse on Harry, and as we later learn, “you have to mean them.” Is Victor Krum a darker character than we had previously realized? The name Durmstrang itself comes from the German phrase “Sturm und Drang,” which translates to “Storm and Stress,” a tradition in German literature. The foremost writer in this movement, Goethe, was most famed for Faust, his tale of a pact with the devil, reminiscent of Karkaroff’s pact with Voldemort. Sturm und Drang composer Richard Wagner also wrote many operas about a wizard with an invisibility cloak, an interesting similarity given Grindelwald’s obsession with the Deathly Hallows (Colbert 73). “The artists of the Sturm und Drang movement, and Wagner in particular, were favorites of the Nazi government in Germany just before and during the second World War” (Colbert 74). Durmstrang, thus, makes an ideal supremacist breeding ground.
Looking back over the century, Dumbledore tells Harry the tale of Grindelwald, describing the dark wizard’s “plans for seizing power and his schemes for Muggle torture” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 717). Grindelwald raises an army and finds a weapon of immense power, as dark rumors begin to circulate. At last, Dumbledore defeats Grindelwald in 1945. This significant date indicates that Grindelwald’s defeat clearly ended the war in the Wizarding World between the British Dumbledore and German Grindelwald. The war that ended in the Muggle World coincides, as critic Faisal M. Ahmad notes:
Grindelwald, being a great Dark wizard in 1945, could only quite possibly belong to the darkest of nations of that time period, Nazi Germany. Whether he fulfilled a position as the Nazi-equivalent of the Minister of Magic, or something entirely different cannot be known. I would imagine that Hitler’s suicide towards the end of April would have coincided somewhat with the death of his Minister (if that is indeed what Grindelwald was).
With the defeat of Grindelwald and withBritain’s triumph over Nazism, the Dark Wizards found themselves a reviled minority, muttering about racial purity but curtailed or imprisoned. While Grindelwald rotted away in Nurmengard, (a clear allusion to Nuremburg, prison and site of the famed Nazi war trials) dark wizards like Lucius Malfoy would hide their proclivities and fume behind a false mask of celebration. In this atmosphere lives a young Voldemort, creating Horcruxes to preserve his life, surrounded by British wizards working to repair the damage Grindelwald and his allies caused, while cursing those dark wizards who murdered in the name of racial purity. Just as Hitler smoldered at the reparations and humiliating surrender of the Germans from World War One, wouldn’t young Tom Riddle burn with the knowledge that his pure-blood elitists were defeated and slandered at every turn, only for killing the Muggles he deemed worthless? Bitter and dissatisfied, Voldemort takes on his dark name, growing in power and recruiting those pure-blood allies who would support his cause. The dark wizards were not defeated, he would boast: they were betrayed by the Muggle-born and blood traitors among them, who weakened the battle and made those born to lead fail at the critical moment. And thus, fifty years later, the cycle begins again.
The racism and racial supremacy of World War Two had lingered for hundreds of years, and in some ways, linger today, as do the rationalizations that can lead to discrimination. In this world, dictators of all sorts can gain power. Only the “constant vigilance” espoused in the Harry Potter series can stop the darkest leaders of our past from claiming yet another foothold on our futures.
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