Adolf Hitler has made headlines again. News sparked early this year when Mein Kampf, Hitler’s racist manifesto, made its way to German bookstores after an over-70-year absence. Still hot off the presses, the text sold out almost immediately.
Yet, what you won’t find is Hitler’s original text on the shelf. Instead is a carefully annotated edition of the incendiary autobiography, coming in at 2,000 pages.
Demand was high even before the text was made available for purchase on January 8th. 15,000 advance orders were placed, outweighing the 4,000 copies ordered for the initial print.
The Institute of Contemporary History Munich Berlin, an independent organization, headed development of the annotated copy. According to its website, the institute decided to move forward with the objective to provide a scientifically commented edition of the text with aims to contribute to historical and political education.
The new edition “sets out as far as possible Hitler’s sources, which were deeply rooted in the German racist tradition of the late 19th century,” said the Munich institute’s director, Andreas Wirsching as reported by the Associated Press. “This edition exposes the false information spread by Hitler, his downright lies and his many half-truths, which aimed at a pure propaganda effect.”
Some might be left wondering, why the reemergence? The answer lies in German copyright. Following Hitler’s suicide in 1945 at the end of World War II, the copyright for Mein Kampf was turned over to the German state of Bavaria. Although Mein Kampf was not banned in Germany, the copyright had been used throughout the years to prevent its publication. The 2016 edition was published after copyright officially ended on December 31, 2015.
Germany’s main Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews, has stated that it has no objections to the new edition but only supports versions with included annotation. The group’s president, Josef Schuster, expressed hope that the edition will “contribute to debunking Hitler’s inhuman ideology and counteracting anti-Semitism.”
Opinion in the Jewish community is divided, however. Schuster’s predecessor, Charlotte Knobloch, has said that she worries that the reintroduction of the text will awaken interest in the original sans the careful historical and political contextualization that the annotation provides.
Others have supported the book’s publication, reiterating that it’s a much needed wakeup call about how easily prejudice can take root.
Peter Ross, writing for the Daily Beast, called the new version a must-read. “… [I]t is high time, even long overdue, that German schoolchildren and university students have the benefit of direct access to the early raw material of Hitler’s madness …”
The fears, Ross argues, that Hitler’s writings would incite some sort of racist, Nazi revival are unfounded. The text has circulated in right-wing groups for years and there has not been any major resurgence of anti-Semitism. Ross continues that current German xenophobia is likely to be directed at Syrian refugees so he is skeptical of how much Hitler’s anti-Semitic ramblings will reverberate in Germany’s present day context.
“For contemporary readers of any political persuasion, digging into Hitler’s overheated, simplistic theories of racial domination and his tangled ’20s foreign policy prescriptions is more in the nature of historical homework than political inspiration.”