German Teachers Argue for Teaching Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' in Schools

First rerun of Hitler's manifesto in 70 years to be published in an annotated version with historic commentary.

Dreamstime

Teachers and politicians in Germany want a new, annotated version of Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf" included in the country's school curriculum.

The January publication of the new version of the book, which Hitler wrote in the 1920s, will be the first in 70 years. Publication was made possible by the expiry of copyright on the book, held by the government of Bavaria, which previously prevented publication of reruns of the book.

Published by Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History, the new edition – "Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition" – adds context and background to Hitler's racist and anti-Semitic rant, with 3,500 annotations of historical commentary. It will run to 1,948 pages over two volumes,

The German teachers' union and Social-Democratic Party (SPD) want extracts from the book to be included in the school curriculum as a means of teaching students about the roots of racism and modern anti-Semitism in Germany.

"'Mein Kampf' is a terrible and monstrous book," SDP lawmaker Ernst Dieter Rossmann told the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

“To historically unmask this anti-Semitic, dehumanizing polemical pamphlet and to explain the propaganda mechanism through appropriately qualified teachers is a task of modern education.”

In times of rising rightwing populism, teaching humanist values and democratic principles is indispensable, he argued. “A critical analysis of Mein Kampf – this antithesis of humanity, freedom and openness to the world – can strengthen resistance against these temptations and dangers.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by teachers' association head Josef Kraus. "Schools should be able to use the annotated version of the book," he said.

"A professional approach to extracts from the book in the context of school lessons could help “inoculate adolescents against political extremism.”

Schools can't ignore the book, Kraus added. "What is forbidden in the schools will become even more popular on the Internet." For that reason, it would be better for the book to be taught “by savvy history and politics teachers than to have it circulate among students without explanation or supervision."

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish community in Munich, took a different position, telling the newspaper that she opposed teaching the book in German schools.

"So long as German students know virtually nothing about the Jews, other than the Holocaust, and don't learn about the Jewish religion, the flowering of Jewish life in Germany before 1933 and the accomplishments for which our country owes the Jews, using that profoundly anti-Jewish diatribe as teaching material would be irresponsible."

The time allocated in German schools for studying the history of Nazism, the Holocaust and World War II is limited, she said. "There's no logic in filling those few hours with reading that disgusting, hate-filled and anti-Semitic book."

Hitler began writing "Mein Kampf" in 1923 while a prisoner in Munich's Landsberg Prison after the abortive Beer Hall Putsch. It was first published in 1925, eight years before Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.

The book was the first exposition of Hitler's ideology of race struggle, living space (lebensraum) and the Jewish Problem that came to dominate his rule between 1933 and 1945.