The book that once served as a kind of Nazi bible, banned from domestic reprints since the end of World War II, will soon be returning to German bookstores.
The prohibition on reissue for years was upheld by the state of Bavaria, which owns the German copyright and legally blocked attempts to duplicate it. But those rights expire in December, and the first new print run since Hitler’s death is due out early next year. The new edition is a heavily annotated volume in its original German that is stirring an impassioned debate over history, anti-Semitism and the latent power of the written word.
The book’s reissue, to the chagrin of critics, is effectively being financed by German taxpayers, who fund the historical society that is producing and publishing the new edition. Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2,000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.
Still, opponents are aghast, in part because the book is coming out at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and as the English and other foreign-language versions of “Mein Kampf” — unhindered by the German copyrights — are in the midst of a global renaissance.
Although authorities here struck deals with online sellers such as Amazon.com to prohibit sales in Germany, new copies of “Mein Kampf” have become widely available via the Internet around the globe. In retail stores in India, it is enjoying strong popularity as a self-help book for Hindu nationalists. A comic-book edition was issued in Japan. A new generation of aficionados is also rising among the surging ranks of the far right in Europe. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece, for instance, has stocked “Mein Kampf” at its bookstore in Athens.
Regardless of the academic context provided by the new volume, critics say the new German edition will ultimately allow Hitler’s voice to rise from beyond the grave. “I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Mein Kampf,’ even with annotations. Can you annotate the Devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “This book is outside of human logic.”
A rambling, repetitive work panned by literary critics for its pedantic style, “Mein Kampf” was drafted by Hitler in a Bavarian jail after the failed Nazi uprising in Munich in November 1923. It was initially published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, with later, joint editions forming a kind of Nazi handbook. During the Third Reich, some German cities doled out copies to Aryan newlyweds as wedding gifts.
The book also laid the groundwork for the Holocaust, stating, for instance, that Jews are and “will remain the eternal parasite, a freeloader that, like a malignant bacterium, spreads rapidly whenever a fertile breeding ground is made available to it.”
Contrary to popular belief, “Mein Kampf” — or “My Struggle” — was never banned in postwar Germany; only its reprinting was. Of the more than 12.4 million copies in existence before 1945, hundreds of thousands are thought to survive. Old copies can still be sold in antiquarian bookstores.
Yet vocal opposition appears to be growing. Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community in Munich, said she had not vigorously opposed it when the project first surfaced. But her position, she said, hardened after hearing from outraged Holocaust survivors.
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