Harry Potter, World War II, and the Banality of Evil

Curator's Note

Whether it be lycanthropy representing the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s, blood status representing race relations, or the entire series being a quasi-Jesus parable, Harry Potter is rife with symbolism that holds a mirror up to our world. Of particular note is the parallels the series has to World War II Germany, bringing up notions of responsibility when it comes to the banality of evil. One major metaphor is Voldemort as Hitler, as their rises to power follow similar trajectories. Hitler was a popular speaker who was elected into office by appealing to the pathos of those who have been hit hardest by the economic depression in Germany. After being harshly punished by the Treaty of Versailles, Germans across the nation felt disenchantment and shame for their country, and Hitler promised a return to greatness. Similarly, Purebloods in the Harry Potter series felt similar pangs of bitterness in their community as blood status became less and less important through the years. Voldemort was a very popular and well-spoken wizard who appealed to the ethos of those Purebloods to bring blood status back, and to punish those who felt otherwise. Further, the two orchestrated unspeakable acts against the Other that was well supported by their governing bodies. Purebloods reigned supreme in the Ministry: if officials weren’t all out Death Eaters they were at least sympathizers. The same can be said for Germany and the Nazi Party. Jewish people were dehumanized in popular culture, noting their physical features as odd and not as worthy as the “Aryan” race. Purebloods dehumanized Muggleborns with the use of the term “Mudblood”, as well as exclusion of those with creature blood from schooling. Finally, the theme of responsibility emerges when considering Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. For Arendt, Nazi generals such as Adolf Eichmann that claim to have just been following orders had succumbed to the banality of evil. The harsh persecution of Jewish people had become so common that Nazis and sympathizers alike had no introspection on the ethical implications of their actions. For the Harry Potter series, our Eichmann is Lucius Malfoy, a politician who felt nostalgia for the old times and supported anything with that sentiment in mind. The responsible Germans who saw through the banality of evil to help the Jewish people escape death camps can be likened to Sirius Black, a Pureblood who seriously considered the Other and chose the Light Side.


I applaud your use of Arendt in framing this post. It is not uncommon for our colleagues in history departments to connect HP themes with Nazi Germany, but I haven't seen someone use this theoretical framework before to help us understand those who chose to follow Voldemort's regime. I hope you'll write a longer paper on this, with special focus for characters like the Slytherin students (what what it means that JKR lumped them all together), Wormtail, and Umbridge, all who represent different levels of open commitment to an evil institution.

Thanks so much for your comment Lauren. I do see a lot of correlation between Harry Potter and Nazi Germany as well, but I was very interested to explore the responsibility aspects of this correlation and Arendt was a perfect fit. I appreciate you suggestions to formulate this into a larger paper and will definitely take them into consideration. I hadn't thought much about how Rowling lumped the Slytherin students together and what that can mean through an Arendtian lens - that is very interesting when considering the banality of it all. Extreme commonness of Voldemort's ideals was definitely floating around their common room, and I wonder what that meant for those students. Thanks again!

What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing this with us. I'm wondering if you can tell me more about the images you included in the slideshow on the left. Those are just so interesting! Are these fan-made images? Made in what context?

Hi Kati. I enjoyed this post and your outlines of different corollaries between Nazi Germany and the Harry Potter narrative. The images you included reminded me of the ways that the HP movies themselves play with Nazi iconography, and whether you've ever looked into that? (The transformation of the Ministry of Magic in Deathly Hallows in particular is something I find very interesting.) This post has also reminded me that Grindelwald - defeated by Dumbledore in 1945 - is an overt reference to Nazism and it will be exciting to see how this builds in the Fantastic Beasts franchise!

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