by: Dr. Dror Abend
In preparation for the arrival of white supremacist and Nazi-inspired activist Richard Spencer at UF, I underscore and clarify the values that I teach in my classes, and which I hope that my students will be able to apply on Thursday, October 19.
I teach Jewish Cultures, Languages and Literatures at the University of Florida. A few years ago I was ridiculed in The Jewish Press for the absurd title of my course, “Harry Potter and the Holocaust.” The journalist, who had never examined the course syllabus, regarded the course title as an epitome of pandering to students. I didn’t mind the ridicule, and I would be the first to admit that the course title sounds funny. But my purpose in this course, as I believe is the purpose of author J. K. Rowling in her series, is quite serious.
Like most of us, Harry is born after a terrible war of atrocities and racial hate. And like many of us, he hears of this war in parts, receiving incomplete information in a society that represses horrible memories and denies the possibility that the horrifying events of the past may happen again. But, in the series, history does repeat itself, and the villains of the past return. In fact, it is the blindness of people who are too scared to see the truth, and the denial by self-serving politicians, that enables the return of fascists to power. Harry’s society is forced into a new war, more horrible than the first.
Wrapping the horrible truth of the holocaust in the genre of an adolescent novel helps readers, as well as students, to negotiate the trauma. In class, we go further to discuss the events of World War II, the rise of fascism, racism, and the natural tendency of people to shield themselves from unpleasant truths, in relation to our own time and society. It is the hope of J. K. Rowling, and my own, that armed Harry’s story, you will be able to recognize fascism when it comes knocking on your door. That in the same manner that people in Harry’s society were forced to either stand by him or by the enemies of humanity, you will know that denying or ignoring evil will never work; that ignoring fascism enables it; and that by not standing up to those who prorogate genocide and violence against minorities, one is complicit in their acts of murder and genocide.
I am asking everyone who grew up reading Harry Potter, and who laughed and cried through his triumphs and adversities, to realize that this is not a mere work of fiction. Voldemort is really coming. And J. K. Rowling has been telling you this story for a reason. It’s time to grow up.
Dr. Dror Abend-David teaches at the department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the University of Florida. His first book, based on his dissertation, was published in 2003 by Peter Lang under the title: ‘Scorned my Nation:’ A Comparison of Translations of The Merchant of Venice into German, Hebrew, and Yiddish. His second book, Media and Translation: An Interdisciplinary Approach, was published in June 2014 (soft cover 2016) with Bloomsbury Academic Publishing. His third book, Representing Translation: Languages, Translation, and Translators in Contemporary Media is forthcoming in September 2018. Dror received his doctorate in Comparative Literature from New York University (2001), and has published articles on Translation in relation to Media, Drama, Literature, and Jewish Culture. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.