Roald Dahl museum condemns author’s ‘undeniable’ racism, antisemitism

LONDON — A museum dedicated to Roald Dahl — and founded by his widow — is condemning the famous British children’s author’s “undeniable” racism, and antisemitic views about Jewish people, insisting that it is working hard to be more inclusive to visitors and open about his legacy.

The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Center, founded in 2001 by Dahl’s widow, Liccy, issued a statement this week that it embraces a 2020 apology made by Dahl’s family and the company that owns the publishing rights to his books — and is working to “explore how our organisation might make further contributions toward combating hate and prejudice.”

“Roald Dahl’s racism is undeniable and indelible but what we hope can also endure is the potential of Dahl’s creative legacy to do some good,” the Britain-based museum said.

More than a million people have visited the museum, including an average of 10,000 schoolchildren every year, the museum said. It houses part of his archive and is based in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, in southern England, where Dahl lived and famously wrote his whimsical stories in a garden hut.

The museum has put up a sign at its entrance condemning Dahl’s antisemitic views and said it has been engaging with several prominent organizations within the Jewish community to build more accessible and inclusive policies and train staff in the years since the Dahl family apology.

It is also working with schools on resources to “combat prejudice by championing universal children’s rights, explored through the experiences of characters in Roald Dahl’s stories,” it said. “We are working hard to do better and know we have more to do.”

While Dahl, author of “Matilda” and “The Witches,” is famous across the world — selling more than 300 million books that were translated into more than 60 languages — his personal legacy has been complicated.

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In 1990, before his death, he called himself antisemitic after years of hostile public comments about Jewish people. The 2020 apology from Dahl’s family and the Roald Dahl Story Company said the antisemitic, “prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew.”

The museum’s statement comes a few months after Dahl’s publisher said it would be revising hundreds of words in his books to make his works more inclusive for modern audiences, describing the tweaks as “small and carefully considered.” The move sparked a global debate about the value of changing famous works; it was criticized by some authors as “absurd censorship,” while others welcomed the changes as updates for a more modern era.

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Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an advocacy group that works with the museum, said in a statement Thursday that she welcomed its “acknowledgment of the author’s antisemitism,” calling the public statements an “important starting point with regard to providing the full story about a man whose works are enjoyed by millions.”

Danny Stone, chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which works with British politicians and policymakers to combat antisemitism, praised the museum’s “detailed thinking” into appropriately addressing Dahl’s harmful anti-Jewish views.

“People will rightly continue to enjoy Dahl’s works and visit the Dahl museum but in researching the author it is important that they are able to establish the facts about who he was and what his views were,” Stone said in an email. “The work we have done with the Museum has been thought provoking and fruitful.”

Born to Norwegian parents, Dahl lived and traveled across parts of Africa, the Middle East and United States. He died in England at age 74, in 1990. He had a varied career working as a pilot, a medical inventor and famed children’s author.

Many of his literary works have spawned Broadway musicals, games and Hollywood movies — the latest “Wonka,” a prequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starring actors Timothée Chalamet and Hugh Grant, is due out later this year. Dahl also wrote darker, macabre novels for adults touching on themes such as war and betrayal.

“In his life, Roald Dahl was a contradictory person. He could be kind; he often helped people, donated to charity, and contributed to medical science. However, there are also recorded incidents of him being very unkind and worse, including writing and saying antisemitic things about Jewish people,” the museum’s website says.

In its latest comments, it notes: “We do not repeat Dahl’s antisemitic statements publicly, but we do keep a record of what he wrote and said in the Museum’s collection, so it is not forgotten.”

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