taboo book

Berlin Theater Takes on 'Mein Kampf'

Scene from mein kampf by sebastian Kahnert DPA
Copies of "Mein Kampf" from abroad on stage in Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As the ban on Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” expires at the end of the year, a theater company has put the book on stage.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The conceptual production presents a variety of characters from an older German judge to a young Israeli journalist and a Turkish rapper discussing the book and its meanings.
    • The play is being produced at a time when “Mein Kampf” is no longer covered by copyright laws, though it has remained in circulation as an Internet download and is popular in countries where anti-Semitism is accepted.
    • Rimini Protokoll spent two years developing the project.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Adolf Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” is back and appearing on stage in Weimar.

Written by Hitler from prison following a failed coup, “Mein Kampf” became a bestseller in Nazi Germany. He wrote a second volume, “The National Socialist Movement,” at the turn of the year 1926-27.

“Mein Kampf,” published 90 years ago by Munich publisher Franz Eher, has been banned in Germany since the end of World War II. The ban will expire at the end of this year.

Now, a German drama company, the Rimini Protokoll, has created a discursive piece about the book for a theater in Weimar, called “Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf.”

Under the direction of theater producers Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel, the stage presentation aims to explore how the taboo book achieved its almost mythical status.

It uses a handful of people, like a young Israeli journalist and a Turkish rapper, who talk about how they came to encounter the book in their lives.

The book is in circulation in practically all languages around the world – because Hitler sells.

When he penned the book, Hitler was not yet a political force to be reckoned with; he was just a powerful speaker and strident radical. But the publisher immediately printed 10,000 copies for sale at what was then the impressive price of 12 Reichsmarks.

If Hitler failed as a painter, he enjoyed immediate success as an author. By the time he seized power in January 1933, 241,000 copies were already in circulation. Sales figures of “Mein Kampf” soared after he became the Fuhrer, Germany’s dictator. Publishers kept issuing new editions and special editions, while couples who got married received the new “German bible” at the registry office.

When a final edition was published 1945, there were about 12.5 million copies in circulation. At the close of World War II, records from Hitler’s account showed that at the height of the book’s success, he had earned 15 million reichsmarks from sales.

These interesting details feature in the theater play, which will premiere at the Weimar Kunstfest, then travel to Graz and on to Munich. There are further performances scheduled for Zurich, Athens and Berlin. The art director for the production is Matthis Lilienthal, whose HAU Theater was where the Riminis first became popular.

A new edition of “Mein Kampf” will be published because the copyright law expires at the end of 2015, 70 years after Hitler’s death. The Bavarian state, which was heir to the Hitler property because he maintained a home in Munich, banned any reprinting of the book.

However, this ban only applied to German print editions. On the Internet, it has long been possible to download the book. And the millions of books hastily disposed of by Germans in 1945 can still be found in used bookstores. In Arab nations, “Mein Kampf” is a hit because of its anti-Semitic stance. India has several different translations and Japan has a manga version. Even in Israel, Hitler’s writing was published in Hebrew in small editions for study purposes. The American publisher Random House, which acquired the rights to “Mein Kampf” in the 1930s, donates all proceeds from its sale.

The Rimini Protokoll members worked on the project for two years, carrying out extensive research. Originally, plans were to include historian Othmar Plöckinger on stage instead of an actor. In 2006, Mr. Plöckinger published a book on the origin and effect of “Mein Kampf” and is a contributor to the new edition of Hitler’s book prepared by the Munich Institute for Contemporary History. This new two-volume research edition will be available from January for researchers. The original 781 printed pages will balloon to about 2,000 pages to include footnotes and commentaries

The theater group Rimini Protokoll isn’t worried about the way the project will be received – though there could be some concern that the staging, near Hitler’s beloved city of Weimar, near Buchenwald concentration camp, is crude and provocative.

The Rimini directors Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel made the production obviously biased by selecting six “everyday experts” as protagonists.

The scenery they use in the former Weimar electric plant comprises two bookshelves, that the actors can climb through, like a human advent calendar. They used the same props in a previous production“Karl Marx: Das Kapital.” At the beginning of the play, there is a small Christmas tree with piles of gift-wrapped presents beneath it. Alongside this, an old television shows a video from the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. Later in the piece, a young Israeli lawyer named Alon explains that he had never forgotten those television images and wanted to read Hitler’s racist theories in the original form.

 

dance scene from the producers DPA Picture alliance
A dance scene from a production of “The Producers” in Berlin. Source: DPA Picture alliance

 

In the theater show, Sibylla, an older German judge and historian, tells how as a schoolgirl she discovered a copy of “Mein Kampf” printed in Saxony during the National Socialist era, which she gave to her parents for Christmas. At the end of the evening, she then reads the genuine farewell letter from her sister to the family, before she joined a leftwing underground terrorist group.

Then there’s a Berlin political scientist of Turkish origin and rapper Volkan T Error who prefers to talk with Alon and the others about Japanese Hitler mangas rather than the Middle East conflict and current German, Turkish or Arab anti-Semitism.

We only hear the sound of the author’s voice for a brief a second on a record.

Othmar Plöckinger, the “Mein Kampf” expert, appears in the video together with Israeli historian Moshe Zimmermann, who was part of the 1995 debate in the Knesset over the Israeli edition of “Mein Kampf.”

There’s a suggestive moment when a bookbinder from the Weimar Anna-Amalia Library unwraps an Internet printout of “Mein Kampf” and reaches it to a viewer, raising the question of whether this is a criminal act, the “distribution” of seditious writing.

Hitler himself rarely gets a chance to speak. He is cited by the blind Christian Spremberg and we only hear the sound of the author’s voice for a brief second on a record.

There’s more of a provocative effect when the voice of Joseph Goebbels, propagandist of all propagandists, emerges from a garbage can, saying the book is the “German gospel.”

 

This article originally appeared in Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: redaktion@tagesspiegel.de

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!