70 Years After Hitler’s Death, ‘Mein Kampf’ Is Back on Best-seller Lists

Anne Frank’s diary also gets a new readership, with free downloads of French versions; both books owe their new lease on life to the expiration of copyrights.

A copy of "Hitler, Mein Kampf. A Critical Edition" on a display table in a Munich bookstore, on January 8, 2016.
Reuters

It’s been 70 years since the authors of the two biggest Holocaust-related best-sellers of all time died. And this year, both are enjoying a revival: Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” has become a best-seller once again, while French translations of Anne Frank’s diary can be downloaded for free.

Hitler, whose book paved the way for the genocide of Europe’s Jews, committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin in 1945. Frank, a Jewish teen whose diary described her years in hiding in Amsterdam during the Holocaust, died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp that same year.

Both books were translated into numerous languages and have sold millions of copies in the decades since they were first published. But at the end of last year, the copyright on both works expired, since copyright lasts for 70 years after the author’s death.

Thus both are now in the public domain, meaning they can be used without permission from the original publishers — a fact that has sparked lively public debate both in Germany and outside it.

A new, critical edition of Hitler’s anti-Semitic rant, first published in the 1920s, hit the bookstores in Germany on January 8, and the 4,000-copy print run sold out in less than a week. The publisher says it has orders for another 15,000 copies and is now working on a second print run. The book also made Der Spiegel’s best-seller list, winning 20th place on the nonfiction list.

The new, German-language edition is some 2,000 pages long. The original text is accompanied by copious historical and scientific notes written by a team of experts from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, which published the edition. Its list price is 59 euros, but it is already being offered for hundreds of euros on Amazon and eBay for anyone who can’t wait for the next print run.

Anne Frank’s diary is different, because it’s subject to a legal dispute. The Switzerland-based Anne Frank Fonds, a foundation that holds the rights to the book, claims that Anne’s father, Otto Frank, edited the diary to such an extent that he became a co-author. Therefore, the copyright won’t expire until 2050, 70 years after his death.

But that claim is hotly disputed; many people believe the copyright expired 70 years after Anne’s death. Consequently, two individuals have already posted a complete French translation on their personal websites — Isabelle Attard, a French member of parliament, and Olivier Ertzscheid, a lecturer at France’s University of Nantes.

The foundation sent a threatening letter to Ertzscheid last week, demanding that he remove the diary from the web and threatening that if he doesn’t, it will sue him for 1,000 euros for every day the book remains online.

But so far, he isn’t giving in, and he said 50,000 people have already visited his site to read the diary.