In Brief

Was Roald Dahl anti-Semitic?

Newly-released papers show Royal Mint ditched commemorative coin plains in 2014

The Royal Mint scrapped plans for a limited edition coin commemorating Roald Dahl due to concerns over the author’s alleged anti-Semitism.

The Daily Telegraph reports that “proposals to release a coin to mark 100 years since Dahl’s birth were dropped by officials reportedly concerned he was ‘not regarded as an author of the highest reputation’”, as a result of remarks he made on Jews and the Holocaust.

The official minutes of a Royal Mint committee meeting from 2014, recently released under freedom of information laws, reveal how plans to issue a Dahl-themed coin were abandoned because he was “associated with anti-Semitism”.

Born in Cardiff in 1916 to Norwegian immigrants, Dahl attended private schools in the UK and served in the RAF during the Second World War, before going on to make his name as the author of beloved children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG and Matilda.

He also penned short stories and novels for adults, as well as the screenplays for You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, before his death in 1990.

However, Dahl’s outspoken comments about Jews in his later years have tainted his legacy in the eyes of some readers.

In a 1983 interview with the New Statesman, when asked to elaborate on comments he had made in a book review about the influence of Jewish bankers in the United States, Dahl suggested Jews “provoke animosity”.

“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews,” he said.

He went on to make remarks which many interpreted as Holocaust apologism, saying: “There is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason.”

Referring to Jewish victims of Nazi death camps, he added: “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 were always submissive.”

Questioned on his politics in a 1990 interview, he told The Independent: “I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.”

He also claimed newspaper coverage of Israel’s actions in Lebanon was muted as “they are primarily and claimed that “Jewish-owned” newspapers were helping cover up Israeli military activity in Lebanon.

In a letter to the New York Times published after Dahl’s death in 1990, Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League described him as “a blatant and admitted anti-Semite”.

“Praise for Mr. Dahl as a writer must not obscure the fact that he was also a bigot,” Foxman wrote.

Dahl’s unsavoury views need not prevent readers from appreciating him, says Kristine Howard, who runs a website for fans of his work, but neither should they accept the popular image of Dahl as “kindly old grandpa and the champion of all underdogs”.

The real Dahl was a “very complicated man”, she writes, whose writing includes a “distasteful” undercurrent of racism and sexism. “The ‘myth of Dahl’ that’s been pushed since his death tends to gloss over a lot of this stuff.”

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