German academics who have been engaged for years in a campaign calling for the reprinting of an annotated version of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle") received support from an unlikely source. The Central Council of Jews in Germany expressed its support for reissuing the book, whose production has been banned in the country since the end of World War II.
Stephan Kramer, the council's general secretary, called for publishing the book in an academic format so that the next generation of Germans could learn about the Nazi ideology. "A historically critical edition [of the book] needs to be prepared today to prevent neo-Nazis from profiting from it," Kramer told the British newspaper The Independent. Kramer also said that many of today's youth are exposed to the Internet version of the book, thus rendering it "all the more important" that they be afforded the opportunity to read the annotated version online "when they click on to 'Mein Kampf' on the web."
Professor David Bankier, who heads the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, endorses the call for publishing an academic edition of the book. "Whoever wants to read these toxic words [in] 'Mein Kampf' and other Nazi literature can find them on the Internet anyway," Bankier told Haaretz yesterday. "So it would be preferable if [the book] includes annotations from academics that would explain what the words are supposed to mean and which parts of the book are lies and fairy tales written by the author."
The rights to the book now belong to the German state of Bavaria, which is steadfastly opposed to reprinting it. A Bavaria government spokesperson responded to Kramer's statements by declaring: "We won't lift the ban as it may play straight into the hands of the far right. Prohibition is highly regarded by Jewish groups and we mean to keep it that way."
Bavaria will continue to hold the rights to the book until 2015. At that point, it will be powerless to prevent its reissue. Until then, the courts will have to determine whether the current laws which ban the dissemination of Nazi propaganda can prevent the book's distribution in Germany.
Hitler was not a fact checker
In the meantime, at least one organization has stepped forward to express interest in publishing the annotated version. "A scientific edition would help to dispel the peculiar myths surrounding this book," said Horst Moeller, the head of Munich's Institute of Contemporary History.
Dieter Fohl, a historian at the institute, said that a new printing is necessary because Hitler did not do his due diligence in terms of fact-checking, nor was he consistent in his views. This inconsistency is reflected in the text and is thus worthy of an explanation. "We must annotate every line," Fohl said.
Ian Kershaw, the noted British historian who recently authored a two-volume biography of Hitler - "Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris" and "Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis" - also expressed his support for republication. "A grown-up democracy like Germany does not need to fear that Hitler's damaging treatise would somehow constitute a threat to society," Kershaw told the German magazine Stern. The book's availability on the Internet is proof that attempts at censorship have failed.
Hitler wrote the first section of the book in 1923, while serving time in prison for attempting the so-called Beer Hall Putsch against the Weimar regime. It was published in 1925. The second part of the book was written following his release from prison and was published in 1926.
Hitler lays out his political, social, and racial doctrine in the 720-page book. He described the "struggle between races," "the principle of Lebensraum," and "the Jewish problem" in Germany and around the world.
Every few years, "Mein Kampf" reemerges in the headlines - particularly when legal challenges are filed to stop its distribution. During the period between Hitler's rise to power and the end of the war, ten million copies of the book were sold and it was translated into many languages. Even after the war, millions of copies of the Nazi manifesto were published.
Today, printing the book is banned in countries like Germany, Austria and Holland, yet it is permitted in many other countries, including the United States, France and Sweden. In 1992, following its reprinting in Sweden, the Bavarian government sought to prevent its dissemination. The Swedish Supreme Court, however, ruled that the book has no rights holder since the publishing house that printed it in the 1930s is no longer in existence. The court also ruled that the current Bavarian government is not the legatee of the government that ruled prior to World War II.
A few years ago, a German historian claimed Hitler had a legal heir who could have sued for the royalties to the sales of the book, thus raking in millions of euros. The supposed heir, Peter Raubal, is the son of one of the daughters of Hitler's half-sister, Angela. In 2004, Raubal, an Austrian engineer, was asked if he considered filing any legal motions. He replied that he has no intention of demanding any money tied to Hitler and that he wishes to be left alone to lead his life quietly.
Bestseller in the Arab world
Ten years ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which devotes its efforts to combating anti-Semitism, expressed its displeasure over the sale of the book through popular retail Web sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A public protest compelled the two chains to stop offering the book for sale, although Amazon has once again made the book available to its customers. Following the second intifada in Israel, the book became a bestseller in the Arab world. In 2005, an edition of the book printed in Turkey flew off the shelves. It sells extremely well in Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, and is also available in Lebanon.
In Israel, parts of "Mein Kampf" were published 15 years ago in a book entitled "Chapters from Adolf Hitler's Struggles." The book was printed by the Academon publishing house and edited by Professor Moshe Zimmermann and Dr. Oded Heilbronner. It can be found today in some university libraries.
In the wake of the German Jewish council's support for reprinting an annotated version, Tel Aviv University Professor Moshe Zuckerman says the newfound momentum must be utilized to pave the way for the issuance of a full Hebrew version of the book. "From the outset, the boycott of the book was only symbolic," he said. "Whoever wanted to could make use of it. There is no reason to think someone will find any new ideas in it. When you want to know who your enemies are and how to strike them, you need to read them."
"By the way," Zuckerman adds, "this is one of the most boring books I have ever read in my life. Hitler's taste in art is much like his taste in writing. There is one part that actually isn't boring and it is thus important to study it - and that is concerning the psychology of the masses. There he has some very deep insights."
Professor Dina Porat, the head of the Project for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Tel Aviv University, does not oppose the printing of an annotated version of the book, though she does express concern that such a step would lead to a lifting of the ban on its widespread distribution.
"There is no place for removing the ban on the printing and mass distribution of 'Mein Kampf' - not in Germany, not in Israel and not in the United States," she said. "The book and its inherent symbolism have not changed."
Porat fears unsupervised printing of the book will serve one of the more prevailing attitudes in Germany today, "which sees Hitler as an insane man who took control of Germany and thus it lessens the German people's responsibility for his rise to power."
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