When creating a fantasy world, authors have to draw inspiration from somewhere. History is usually a good starting point. In creating a new world for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – a spin-off from the Harry Potter universe – J.K. Rowling is no different. However, the historical references in Fantastic Beasts are perhaps far darker than anything she has used before.
The new film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald sees magizoologist Newt Scamander, played by Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne, travel to 1920s Paris in search of the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp. In a 2005 interview Rowling stated that it was not a coincidence that the dark wizard Grindelwald was defeated in 1945, the same year that WWII ended, hinting at a connection with Adolf Hitler.
If you have already seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald, you will know that the similarities between the rise of Grindelwald and that of Hitler and the Nazi movement is clear. In one scene Grindelwald even conjures magical images of the forthcoming WWII to convince his followers that Muggles are unable to manage themselves. But did you spot the subtle references in the film too?
Here’s the historical references in Fantastic Beasts I managed to spot;
- Grindelwald’s right-hand lady is Vinda Rosier, a member of a dark wizarding family. In the scene where Grindelwald summons his followers to an ampitheatre beneath the iconic Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, you can find Vinda sporting a pair of trousers strikingly similar to those worn by Hitler’s SS Officers.
- You may remember a scene from the original Harry Potter films where Voldemort visits an aged Grindelwald in his cell while searching for the Elder Wand. Grindelwald’s eventual solitary imprisonment could be a reference to the fate of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy. From 1966 until his death in 1987 he was the sole prisoner of Spandau Prison.
- Grindelwald adopted an ancient symbol as his ‘logo’ (the Deathly Hallows) just as the Nazis adopted the swastika. The swastika was originally an ancient religious icon, and in the Western world it even became a symbol of good luck before Hitler adopted it. There are actually several notable pre-WWII public buildings in Britain that have the swastika incorporated into their design in some way, and lots of pre-WWII sports team were actually called the Swastikas.
- Several people have commentated on the fact Grindelwald’s HQ Nurmengard shares a similar name to the city of Nuremberg, where war criminal trials of former Nazis were held.
- I also saw similarities between Nurmengard and Hitler’s alpine retreat, Eagle’s Nest. Both are located on a rocky outcrop in the Austrian mountains. It is also where Grindelwald introduces Credence aka Aurelius Dumbeldore to his family’s pheonix, making the building literally a birds nest.
- Nurmengard also bears a sign that reads “For the Greater Good”, which may correspond to the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign (German for “Work Makes [One] Free”) which hung above the entrance to Auschwitz.
- As always, J.K.Rowling has put a lot of effort into the naming the characters in the film. Grindelwald’s acolytes are no exception. Vinda Rosier could be named after Frederick Rosier, a Dutch Nazi collaborator. Rue du Rosiers is also the heart of the Jewish quarter in Paris. Other dark wizards include Krall – potentially named after Adolf Krall, a wealthy German industrialist who fled to Brazil after the war – and Krafft, who could be named after Karl Ernst Krafft, a Swiss Astrologer whose predictions were used by the Nazis.
- The Harry Potter Wiki describes Grindelwald as ‘keenly interested in history, lore, and the powerful mystique of magical artefacts’. The same description could be applied to Hitler himself. Hitler actually admired Britain’s history, and wanted to make historical Oxford his capital when he invaded, with Blenheim Palace as his new home! Many historians have also written about the potential links between Nazism and occultism and paganism.
- It is almost without doubt that Hitler was a great orator, and used his skills to persuade the German people to believe in is Nazi ideals. Grindelwald employs the exact same techniques in Fantastic Beasts, albeit not as loud and fervent in style as Hitler.
- When writing this post I discovered another historical easter egg! In the movie poster (above) you will see that Credence’s jacket features a star on the arm. Just like the yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear to identify themselves in Nazi Germany.
In a time of rising hatred and increasing nationalism, I think the way Fantastic Beasts 2 has been written is such a clever and subtle way. It warns the ordinary film-goer that history can repeat itself, and we must all take heed. However, I think it also takes an avid history buff to spot and decode all the subtle historical references in Fantastic Beasts. Did you spot any historical details that I missed?