Abstract: This essay describes how certain plots in the Harry Potter series help teach children about the Holocaust with the use of comparative plots and certain characters that can be compared to the actions and significant individuals of the Nazi Party before and during World War Two.
Teachers have been looking for new ways to teach their students since the dawn of time. These ways tend to be hard to find especially for subjects such as history, which deal mainly in facts and evidence that can be interpreted in only a few ways and can often prove difficult to teach without students’ full attention. World War Two is one of those subjects. Harry Potter, a children’s book series by J. K. Rowling, has certain plot lines, among others, that in a way mirror certain aspects of wars during the twentieth century. In the latter three of the seven books (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows) several plots are not unlike those of the Jewish or other – (hereafter referred to as undesirable) – races during World War Two. These books appropriately include elements of discrimination, racism, and extreme punishment dealt heartlessly by those in places of power. Harry Potter helps teach children about the Holocaust in such a way that when they do learn about the facts of World War Two in school, they obtain a deeper understanding as a result of their emphasizing with the book series’ characters, who are likewise forced into hiding because of their faith or background.
During the holocaust, punishment of undesirable people was extreme. The options were in the worst cases, work or death. This extreme treatment of undesirable people can be compared to Professor Umbridge’s treatment of rule breakers during her term as Hogwarts High Inquisitor (a Ministerial post created to help improve the supposed falling standards in the school and to spy on the headmaster who is alleged to be creating an army to take over the Ministry for Magic). She would often torture students in order to discourage further rule breaking, rather than give detentions. She would also attack students by giving punishments disproportionate to the offense committed, like a lifetime ban on playing Quidditch for getting into a fight with another player – (a normal punishment would most likely be a week of detentions). Her detention techniques were not lethal and were not illegal in wizarding law; however, they verged on the border of inhumane and barbaric. She would tell her students that they would be writing lines, and if asked how many times, would reply “as long as it takes for the message to sink in.” She would give them her “special quill” and tell them “you won’t need ink.” The real reason that these lines are unlike any other punishment is that the words were “cut into (their) skin as though traced there by a scalpel” (OotP 240) and the quill would write on the parchment with blood magically taken from the wound before it resealed itself. She was ambitious in her profession to provide as much support to the Ministry for Magic as possible so as to make herself indispensable in her position at the Ministry.
In her delusion of power and indispensability, Umbridge convinced herself that information that might pertain to the security of the Ministry must be obtained at all costs, no matter the legality of the actions performed to acquire the information. When Harry Potter is caught using her fire to talk to someone through the use of the flu network, Umbridge convinces herself that with a truth potion unobtainable, the only means of interrogation to get information that is “an issue of Ministry security” (OotP 657) is to use the Crutiatus curse – (an illegal curse that causes the target to experience unendurable temporary pain until the curse is lifted by the caster. The effects are stronger if the caster enjoys and wants to cause the pain the curse inflicts). Umbridge handed out punishments on the principal of guilty until proven innocent, therefore, she can be described as being as cruel as many of and more than some of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) in terms of their affinity for unjustified punishment.
In times of distress, countries often look for a strong leader to lead them into a new era of peace and prosperity. During the Great Depression, Germany looked to Adolf Hitler. Having been greatly weakened after World War One from the terms of their surrender, Hitler created an army and alliances with other countries in which the governments were sympathetic towards Germany, against the agreement of their surrender. Like Hitler gave the Germans hope of a better country, Rufus Scrimgeour gave the wizarding world hope that Lord Voldemort had not won the war by creating new law enforcement divisions in the Ministry for Magic. These assembling of these new divisons lead to many more arrests. Exactly how many of these were legitimate – there is no way to tell – but the fact that there were arrests did undoubtedly boost morale in the Wizarding World – until Voldemort took over.
Leading up to World War Two Nazi Germany spread propaganda that the rumors about impending war were just that, rumors. At the same time, they also started the development of the racist propaganda that was distributed before and during World War Two. Nazi Germany spread racist propaganda about undesirables and how the Great Depression was actually their fault. As a result, Germans began to fear the undesirable population and want them removed. So the Nazi government then placed the undesirable populations in ghettos under their control and passed several laws that made it impossible for undesirables to take places of power in local governments and businesses. They were later sent to concentration, internment, or death camps. These types of propaganda were similarly used by the Ministry for Magic while under the control of Cornelius Fudge and, later, Pius Thickness (Who was under the influence of the Imperius curse and the Death Eaters. Propaganda was first used to deny the return of Lord Voldemort and to slander Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore who maintained that the evil wizard had returned. It was then used to divide pure-blood families from muggle-born witches and wizards and blood traitor families. Under the rule of Thickness, the ministry has several departments created to deal with propaganda and the registration of those who fall into the category of being muggle-born. These departments did everything from create racist propaganda to hold trials based on false “research undertaken by the Department of Mysteries (which) reveals that magic can only be passed from person to person when wizards reproduce… therefore the so-called Muggle-born is likely to have obtained magical power by theft or force” (DH 172).
The people who were in “illegal possession of magic” were sent to the wizard prison Azkaban. Azkaban was guarded by creatures that drain hope and happiness from the surrounding area. The effects of prolonged exposure to these creatures often drives people mad or creates a hopelessness that tends to affect how they behave to the extent that sickness and death are not uncommon in the prison. Because of the persecution the muggle-borns faced, many fled to other countries or went into hiding. This provoked the Ministry to employ groups of people called snatchers to track down and capture muggle-borns and members of the Order of the Phoenix (a group of resistance that fights Voldemort and the Ministry because it is under his power) in order to imprison them and “protect the wizarding world.”
Harry Potter helps teach children about the holocaust in such a way that when they do learn about the facts of World War Two in school, they obtain a deeper understanding when learning about the hardships of the Jews and undesirables, who were forced into hiding because of their faith or background. Like the Nazi government, the Ministry for Magic employed people to spread the views of the government and diminish the views that contradicted them, and remove any opposition that arose. They both had strong penalties for not following orders and both persecuted a population that no longer had any right to defend themselves. Therefore, one might suggest that these plot lines were created with reference to World War Two for the purpose of allowing English language educators to analyze and connect these plots to history and teach their pupils the connections that exist between the lines of one of the most influential book series in North America and Great Britain and the atrocities committed more than fifty years ago by the Nazis.