NY Times denigrates Hannukah; Germany to reintroduce Jewish names to school alphabet

December 07, 2020


This film version of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ stars Johnny Depp.

Among the letters Dahl (author of ‘Matilda’ and other children’s bestsellers) got in response to his remarks excusing the Holocaust and his repeated denigration of Jews was one from two San Francisco schoolchildren. It read: “Dear Mr Dahl, We love your books, but we have a problem ... we are Jews!! We love your books but you don’t like us because we are Jews. That offends us! Can you please change your mind about what you said about Jews. Love, Aliza and Tamar.”

His family have now finally apologized for his decades-long antisemitism.


The annual Hannukah concert will once again take place at the Royal Concert Hall in Amsterdam this month. The concert, at the prestigious Dutch music venue, was suspended for over seven decades after the Nazis and their Dutch helpers put an end to it and went on to murder at least 75% of Dutch Jewry in the Holocaust.


[Notes below by Tom Gross]


At the end of this dispatch, I attach the piece from yesterday’s (London) Sunday Times, which first revealed that the family of best-selling children’s author Roald Dahl has quietly apologized for his decades-long antisemitism.

Since the news broke yesterday morning, it has been reported widely around the world.

Yet, whereas all other reports I have read from media in seven different countries (for example, in The Guardian) prominently highlight the worst of Dahl’s antisemitism – his attempt to excuse Hitler and justify the Holocaust – only one paper, the New York Times, omits this key part of Dahl’s antisemitism from its story.


Many have questioned why the Dahl family apology did not include any regret for previously refusing to apologize, despite the issue being raised by many people (including by myself in past writings).

The apology comes as the family are attempting to secure new commercial contracts in America.

Historically, there have of course been a number of successful antisemitic writers in Britain and elsewhere (TS Eliot for example), but it is particularly offensive that Dahl was still trying to justify Hitler or excuse the Holocaust decades after it happened.



Another unpleasant piece in the New York Times (on December 5) was titled “Goodbye to Hannukah.”

(The celebratory Jewish festival starts this Thursday.)

As a friend commented to me: Tom, will the next New York Times article will be “Goodbye to Jews”. Do you think they would publish an article by a non-Muslim saying “Goodbye to Ramadan” before Ramadan?”



Here is something more fun about Hannukah.

A new rap-klezmer mix song by Daveed Diggs titled, “Puppy for Hanukkah”:


It has been watched over 450,000 times on YouTube since it was posted three days ago.

Diggs is best known for his starring roles as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the original cast of the megahit musical “Hamilton,” which also premiered in a recorded stage version on Disney+ this summer.

“My mom is a white Jewish lady and my dad is black,” Diggs told Broadway.com in 2015.



German schools have announced that they plan a return to pre-World War II alphabet tables that existed before the Nazis removed all names with Jewish associations.

The old version of the tables that use names to help children learn to spell – such as “A for Anton” and “B for Berta” – will be used from fall 2021.

The Nazis removed all Jewish names from the alphabet tables in 1934. For example, “D for David” became “D for Dora” and “N is for Nathan” became “N for North Pole”.

The change was decided by a committee at the German Institute for Standardization after a campaign launched by Michael Blume, the antisemitism commissioner for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

Blume said “My concern is that the Nazis’ table should not simply be continued. It is a nice gesture for the year in which we celebrate 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany to make it clear what the table originally looked like.”



Roald Dahl’s family posts quiet apology for antisemitism
The late writer’s estate has issued a discreet statement online expressing regret
By Gabriel Pogrund
The Sunday Times (of London)
December 6 2020

Roald Dahl died 30 years ago, but as his official website boasts, he has continued his “extraordinary mission to amaze, thrill and inspire generations of children and their parents”.The enduring popularity of his books decades after he died, aged 74 in 1990, has also proved lucrative for generations of his descendants. His estate posted revenues of £23m in its latest accounts. However, one unfortunate detail continues to cast a shadow over his legacy and brand: Dahl’s self-confessed antisemitism, which manifested itself in a notorious interview with the New Statesman in 1983.

In it, he said: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere.” He added: “Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Today, it can be revealed that the Dahl family recently met for the first time in several years to discuss the problem and published a discreet apology for his racism on his website. The statement was never displayed prominently, or sent to the media or Jewish groups.

Instead, to find it from the home page of Dahl’s official website, one must scroll down to the bottom, click “About us”, then choose to “Find out more about the Roald Dahl Story Company” [RDSC], the little-known corporate entity that runs his literary estate. You must then click on “RDSC and family notice”, which does not mention the words “apology”, “antisemitism” or Roald Dahl.

There is no way of accessing the apology from the website’s main menu. Nor is there any mention of Dahl’s antisemitism in his biography on the website.

The apology itself is full-throated. It reads: “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.” It adds: “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.”

Might the lack of prominence given to the apology simply be the result of a lack of access to public relations know-how?

That is unlikely; this year the estate has paid the lobbying firm Portland Communications to do other work including organising celebrity readings of Dahl’s works and charity events linked to his name.

There is a powerful incentive to do so. In 2018, the latest period for which data exists, the estate posted annual pretax profits of £12.7m, thanks to television and cinema deals, royalties, fancy-dress costumes and a line of baby toiletries. In March, Netflix announced that the Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi was making an adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s 1964 classic, and a second one about the factory workers, the Oompa-Loompas.

During the same month, Matilda the Musical completed an international tour. In October, Warner Bros released its film Witches, based on his 1983 book, with the Hollywood star Anne Hathaway taking the role played by Anjelica Huston in the original 1990 film.

Every year, his estate gives a percentage of its profits to charity, equal to 8% of revenue in 2018. But philanthropy aside, his family have benefited handsomely from his abiding popularity. His daughter Ophelia Dahl, 56, owns the majority of the estate. Luke Kelly, 34, Dahl’s grandson and the half-brother of the former model Sophie Dahl, was one of three directors of the Roald Dahl Story Company who together received remuneration totalling £2.2m, according to the 2018 accounts.

Promoting Dahl’s work and linking him to charitable causes is crucial to the estate. Earlier this year, Portland oversaw a campaign in which stars such as Meryl Streep, Benedict Cumberbatch and Cate Blanchett narrated James and the Giant Peach, Dahl’s 1961 novel, to raise funds to help poor countries tackle the Covid-19 crisis. Yet such activities cannot erase Dahl’s lengthy back catalogue of racism. Although he fought the Nazis as an RAF pilot during the Second World War, he expressed his dislike of Jewish people in numerous interviews.

As well as his infamous 1983 statement in the New Statesman, in 1990 he acknowledged that he was an antisemite. “I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism,” he said in The Independent.

Some also believe Dahl used antisemitic themes and stereotypes in his work, including inventing a character in the screenplay for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) who did not appear in Ian Fleming’s original novel: the Child Catcher. The character wore a black hat, long black coat and had a huge pointed nose.

Dahl’s racism has received some attention in recent years. In 2017, the comedian David Baddiel, who is Jewish, said he would not be celebrating Roald Dahl Day, which takes place every year on the author’s birthday — September 13 — despite being a fan of his work.

Many close to the estate and family are thought to believe the problem could receive more attention as they court film and television deals in America, on which the estate has become increasingly reliant. Company accounts show that 82% of its revenue comes from outside the UK.

The estate’s apology is in marked contrast to Dahl’s own approach to complaints about his antisemitism.

Shortly before his death, he received a letter from two San Francisco schoolchildren that read: “Dear Mr Dahl, We love your books, but we have a problem ... we are Jews!! We love your books but you don’t like us because we are Jews. That offends us! Can you please change your mind about what you said about Jews. Love, Aliza and Tamar.”

In response Dahl merely said he was against injustice, not Jewish people.

He was less cordial when The Jewish Chronicle called. “I’m an old hand at dealing with you buggers,” he is recorded as saying. “No comment.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company said: “Apologising 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. We loved Roald, but we passionately disagree with his antisemitic comments.

“This is why we chose to apologise on our website, an apology easily found on Google. The Sunday Times now provides an opportunity to repeat this apology. These comments do not reflect what we see in his work — a desire for the acceptance of everyone equally — and were entirely unacceptable. We are truly sorry.”


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