Roald Dahl’s Family Apologizes for His Anti-Semitism

LONDON — The family of Roald Dahl has apologized for “the lasting and understanding hurt” caused by anti-Semitic comments the author made during his lifetime.

Mr. Dahl, the writer of classic children’s books such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The BFG,” made several disparaging comments about Jewish people in interviews and in his writing, and made no secret of his anti-Semitism.

“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,” the Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company wrote in the online statement.

“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 statement added.

The apology was in such an obscure part of the author’s website that it was unclear how long it had been there. The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, drew attention to the statement in an article on Sunday.

Mr. Dahl, who died in 1990 at 74, has a complicated legacy.

His many imaginative tales — including “Matilda,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “The Witches,” as well as the Charlie books and “The BFG” — have endured through the years and have been adapted into films and musicals. This year alone has seen a new take on “The Witches,” starring Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, and news of a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” remake by Taika Waititi for Netflix, which said in 2018 that it had acquired the rights to adapt some of Mr. Dahl’s books.

But Mr. Dahl’s self-avowed anti-Semitism has cast a shadow over his work.

“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity,” Mr. Dahl said in an 1983 interview with The New Statesman.

He reinforced his views in another interview months before his death in 1990: “I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic,” he said, according to The Independent, a British newspaper.

Upon Mr. Dahl’s death, Abraham Foxman, then the national director of the Anti-Defamation League in the United States, called him a “blatant and admitted anti-Semite” in a letter to The New York Times, pointing out that in a 1983 book review the author had referred to “those powerful American Jewish bankers” and claimed that the U.S. government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.”

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

In response to a further request for comment on Sunday, the Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights and trademarks for the author, said, “Apologizing for the words of a much-loved grandparent is a challenging thing to do, but made more difficult when the words are so hurtful to an entire community.”

“These comments do not reflect what we see in his work — a desire for the acceptance of everyone equally — and were entirely unacceptable,” the company added. “We are truly sorry.”

Other elements of Mr. Dahl’s work have attracted criticism. The Oompa Loompa workers in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, who were first depicted as African pygmies, were recast in later editions as fictional creatures from Loompaland.

The Royal Mint, which produces currency in Britain, rejected plans to honor Mr. Dahl with a commemorative coin in 2016, the centenary of his birth, citing his anti-Semitic comments. His views also led to questions about how, or even if, his work should be viewed and consumed.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2016 about his remake of “The BFG,” the director Steven Spielberg said statements attributed to the author were “a paradox,” adding that many of his books “do the opposite, embracing the differences between races and cultures and sizes and language.”

“I just admire ‘The BFG’ and I admire his values in that, and it’s hard even for me to even believe that somebody who could write something like that could say the terrible things that had been reported,” Mr. Spielberg said.

Mr. Dahl’s widow, Felicity Dahl, and his biographer, Donald Sturrock, revealed in a BBC interview in 2017 that Charlie Bucket, the central character in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” was originally supposed to be Black. Mr. Sturrock said that Mr. Dahl’s agent, whom he did not name, had discouraged the idea.

Apart from his children’s books, Mr. Dahl also wrote several books for adults and screenplays, including “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and a James Bond film, “You Only Live Twice.”

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