Roald Dahl’s family apologizes ‘for the lasting and understandable hurt’ caused by his anti-Semitism

British novelist Roald Dahl, pictured here in 1971, made multiple anti-Semitic comments in the decade before his death in 1990. (Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Getty Images)

by Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — Thirty years after Roald Dahl’s death and months before the expected release of a new movie about his life, the family of the children’s author has apologized for his anti-Semitic comments.

Dahl was openly anti-Semitic during his life, telling the New Statesman in 1983 about the Jews, “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Those comments and others have coloured Dahl’s legacy, even as children continue to enjoy the stories he wrote during his 50-year publishing career, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” A new movie of “The Witches” released in October reignited criticism of anti-Semitic tropes in the 1983 novel.

Now, his family has released an undated, unsigned, 86-word apology. First revealed by the Sunday Times this weekend, (Dec. 6, 2020) – the apology is not featured prominently on Dahl’s website, and neither it nor further comments to the New York Times mentions Jews specifically. Here it is in full:

Apology for anti-Semitic comments made by Roald Dahl

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.

The apology has not fully satisfied Jewish groups in Dahl’s native England, which reportedly were not consulted or informed about the statement.

A spokesperson for the Campaign Against Antisemitism told the Jewish News, a British newspaper, “The admission that the famous author’s antisemitic views are ‘incomprehensible’ is right. For his family and estate to have waited thirty years to make an apology, apparently until lucrative deals were signed with Hollywood, is disappointing and sadly rather more comprehensible.”

A new movie about Dahl’s relationship with his first wife, American actress Patricia Neal, whom he divorced after an 11-year affair, is set for release in February. The family and company benefit from licensing for movies made of Dahl’s books (the Academy Award-winning Maori-Jewish filmmaker Taika Waititi is directing two for Netflix); they also operate an online store and museum outside of London.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who is writing a book about Jewish perspectives on apologies and forgiveness, also said that she found the apology lacking.

“’We’re sorry that the stuff Dad said hurt you, I mean, we thought he was awesome and it’s so weird to us that he thought Hitler had the right idea, because his values were overall great’ isn’t the nuanced reckoning you think it is, y’all,” Ruttenberg tweeted on Sunday.

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