It’s been 20 years or so since the first of the Harry Potter novels was published, sparking a reading craze and transforming author J.K. Rowling from impoverished single mother into the world’s richest woman.
A generation has grown up with the books (and the subsequent movie adaptations). They are a powerful marketing force, and Rowling continues to make the occasional addition to the canon. Over the years she has developed as a writer. I felt the first three movies were superior to the novels, but after that the books became too complex for a movie treatment to do them justice.
It is those complexities that came to mind as I walked through the city museum in Müllheim. How do we deal with historical evil, telling its history without glamorization?
In the Potter novels, Harry’s nemesis is an evil, Satanic archetype named Lord Voldemort. His grip on society is such that the majority of people are afraid to say his name, as if its utterance will bring the evil down upon them.
I presume Rowling got the idea of “He Who Must Not Be Named” from an understanding of Judaism, where the name of God is not pronounced, or even written in its entirety. I’m not going to get into the reasons behind that – you didn’t come here for a theology lesson. (And if you did I am sorry to disappoint you.) Suffice it to say, those reasons I am sure seemed good at the time.
In touring the Müllheim museum I was reminded of Voldemort when I came to the display about the Jewish population of the area in the Second World War. There was mention of the National Socialist dictatorship, but not of its leader. Given that six million Jews (and millions of others) died due to one man’s evil obsession, I was a bit surprised he wasn’t named. (I was a bit surprised also by the word “dictatorship,” as, after all, the Nazis were elected. Then again, there were no subsequent elections until after the war.)
This was only the second German museum I have visited, so I don’t know if not naming Adolf Hitler has a purpose and is an agreed upon trend. Offhand I don’t remember anything about that time period in the Lippstadt city museum. I may be more sensitized to it here, given that I live in a town that was one third Jewish in 1930 and where no Jews live now.
Is there a purpose to naming evil, to confronting it by name? Harry Potter and his friends all used the name of Voldemort freely. They would not give even lip-service to fear. I’m not sure if this display in the Müllheim city museum follows that.
Do we confront our fears, or bury them? Good questions, no matter what society we are part of.