Who Was the Real Salazar?
The name Salazar from “Salazar Slytherin” came from the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled Portugal from 1932 to 1968. J.K. Rowling lived in Portugal from 1991 to 1993. Coincidentally, these are the years the first three Harry Potter books are set.
The Portuguese Salazar, like any historical figure, has proponents and critics; he can be viewed as the man who shaped modern-day Portugal, invested in massive infrastructure, and kept the country out of the Second World War, or he can be viewed as a tyrannical dictator who cared nothing for the education of his people and who blocked Jewish refugees from fleeing Europe.
Some parallels between Slytherin and Salazar do seem to be deliberate. Slytherins are cunning, resourceful, and ambitious. During the Second World War, Salazar would have had to display all three to keep Portugal neutral. He was under enormous pressure to pick a side. Portugal historically had strong ties with England thanks to both nations’ strength in seafaring, but Salazar also supported Franco’s Spain, which was supplying arms to the Axis powers (this was because Salazar believed Franco was the bastion that would stop the Iberian Peninsula from being unified or overrun by communists). Caught between a rock and a hard place, Salazar successfully maneuvered Portugal through one of the world’s toughest decades.
So why did J.K. Rowling name one of her most evil characters after Salazar? The parallels between Hitler and Voldemort as well as Dumbledore and Churchill have been shown before. When it comes to Salazar, it is possible Dumbledore’s quote betrays what J.K. Rowling thinks.
Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).
Under threat of military action from the Nazis, Salazar issued orders in November of 1939 that consuls were not to issue Portuguese visas to “foreigners of indefinite or contested nationality; the stateless; or Jews expelled from their countries of origin.” This order was followed only six months later by one stating that “under no circumstances” were visas to be issued without prior case-by-case approval from Lisbon.
Salazar did not agree with the Nazi glorification of a single race; he even wrote a book criticizing the Nuremberg Laws. (Incidentally, Nuremberg no doubt inspired the Nurmengard prison where Grindelwald was kept.) Yet Salazar chose not to protect fleeing refugees due to a greater ambition – keeping Portugal neutral; it was “easier” to hinder refugees rather than go to war. Considering the quote from Dumbledore, we can deduce that in J.K. Rowling’s eyes, this is Salazar’s failing and is why she chose him to be the namesake of Voldemort’s ancestor. It probably didn’t help that national literacy rates weren’t high on his list of priorities.
Do you know of any other historical connections in the Harry Potter books?