For the first time in 70 years, a new edition of Adolf Hitler’s propaganda book “Mein Kampf” will be printed in Germany next year.
In January 2016, the Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History, or IfZ, will issue an annotated version of the Nazi dictator’s manifesto, including 5,000 scholarly comments. The aim is to “demystify ‘Mein Kampf’,” the research institute wrote in a statement. The Bavarian state government initially provided the IfZ with €500,000, or $530,000, in funding but pulled out of the project in 2013 because it deemed the issue was too sensitive.
The book, which in its English translation can be found the world over, from Amazon in the United States to street markets in India, was banned in Germany after World War II.
While satirical takes on Nazism and the Third Reich have become socially acceptable in Germany in recent years, reprints of “Mein Kampf” are still legally prohibited, and owning or reading it is shunned by Germans. The state government of Bavaria has used its copyright of the book to stop any publication – until now.
By the end of this year, 70 years after Adolf Hitler’s death, the copyright will expire, and reprints will be possible.
“There’s no reason to object to a scientifically-annotated version being available for research and teaching.”
That has alarmed the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Josef Schuster, the Council’s president, urged the German government to do everything in its power to prevent a reprint. “Law enforcement authorities should take tough actions against the distribution and sale of the book,” he said in an interview with Handelsblatt.
German politicians share this view. In 2014, the justice ministers of the 16 German states agreed that un-annotated publications of the text should still be illegal after the end of the copyright period, and would fall under Germany’s “incitement of hatred” clause. Under German law, anything that could glorify or even attempt to justify the Nazi atrocities is considered incitement of hatred and punishable by up to five years in prison.
The IfZ’s edition with academic comments will not fall under this ban, and even has the green light from the Central Council of Jews. “Knowledge of ‘Mein Kampf’ is still important to explain Nazism and the Shoah,” Mr. Schuster noted, adding: “There’s no reason to object to a scientifically-annotated version being available for research and teaching.”
Researchers said an outright ban would make no sense. “A ban is mere symbolism,” said the head of IfZ, Andreas Wirsching, last year. “And it’s misplaced symbolism, because it only fuels the mystification of this book.” The institute said its goal was “the deconstruction and contextualization of Hitler’s book.”
“Mein Kampf,” written between 1924 and 1926, is widely considered the programmatic basis for the anti-Semitic, racist and radical ideology of Nazism. Even before Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, the book was a bestseller.
Afterwards, the presses could hardly keep up with demand for the two volumes, one largely autobiographic and one mostly programmatic. By the end of World War II, a total of 12.5 million copies had been printed. It has been translated into 18 languages.
“What we are publishing is an anti-Hitler-writing.”
After the war and Hitler’s death, the copyright to the book was transferred from the Nazi publishing house Franz-Ehler-Verlag to the state of Bavaria. It will expire on December 31, and publication of the annotated version is scheduled for early January 2016.
One of the reasons Bavaria initially supported the IfZ project was to pre-empt the commercialization of the book. Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder has expressed concern that the end of the copyright ban could generate considerable media attention and thus prompt publishers’ interest in “Mein Kampf.” He voiced the hope that the availability of an annotated version will render publication commercially unattractive for publishing houses.
But Bavaria eventually withdrew its financial support of the book project in 2013 after State Premier Horst Seehofer’s visit to Israel.
That won’t stop the IfZ version from going to the press though. Mr. Wirsching, the institute’s head, does not expect anyone to raise objections against the publication. “What we are publishing is an anti-Hitler-writing,” he said.
Torsten Riecke is Handelsblatt’s international correspondent. Franziska Roscher is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. To contact the authors: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org