Within a week of its re-release, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf has nearly doubled the sales of its first print run. The first run of 4,000 copies sold by the German Institute of Contemporary History sold out within a week. Mein Kampf is now on its third print run, with over 15,000 copies sold, compared to the less than 10,000 copies Hitler moved when he first published the book in 1925. This scholarly edition of Mein Kampf is over 2,000-pages long and has more than 3,500 annotations.
Mein Kampf, which means “my struggle,” has not been widely available for sale in Germany since 1945. At that time, the Bavarian state government acquired the copyright to the book and, in the wake of World War II, had simply refused to print it. Mein Kampf is readily available in other countries. First written by Adolf Hitler when he was in prison for treason after an abortive coup, Mein Kampf is a highly anti-semitic work, which blames most of Germany’s and the world’s problems on the Jewish people. After Hitler’s rise to power and throughout the war, Mein Kampf sold over 12 million copies.
Recently, the copyright expired, and the Institute of Contemporary History stepped up. The Institute, set up at the suggestion of the Allies at the end of WWII, has been studying the rise of Hitler’s Germany since 1949, charged with the mission of understanding it to ensure that there could be no repeat. The Institute decided to self-publish an annotated copy for the purposes of history scholarship, and also as a lens through which to view current events. The commentary and criticism included within the new edition of Mein Kampf is also necessary to avoid breaking German laws regarding the incitement of hatred.
While the argument for historical study is easy to understand, and widespread availability of the book elsewhere would seem to make a German edition a relatively innocuous development, the new edition of Mein Kampf has unsurprisingly inspired strong feelings amongst some sections of the community. Award winning German writer Iris Radisch is reported in the Tehran Times as saying that she would “never touch” the book, claiming that reprinting Mein Kampf would be pleasing to neo-nazis. The Guardian, on the other hand, has praised the move, calling it “a very good edition of a very bad old book.”
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has slammed the release of Mein Kampf. He told Newsweek that releasing the book in the current climate would be like “taking a fire and throwing oil on it.” Many scholars, however, say that publishing the text with credible and scholarly annotations is the best possible inoculation against the “vile” and “illogical” ideas in Mein Kampf.
Mein Kampf, besides its hateful content, has never had a very high reputation in scholarly or literary circles. Variously described as “turgid” and “illiterate,” it is littered with errors in spelling and grammar and its argument has often been described as being tortuous and confused. The Institute and its supporters say that publishing Mein Kampf in an edition that points out its manifold flaws, inconsistencies, and untruths, is the best way to de-mystify and therefore de-glamorize fascism in all its forms.
The Syrian crisis, however, has resulted in over a million asylum applications for Germany, and in some sections of the community feelings are running high. There has been a recent resurgence for neo-nazi parties and groups as anxieties about being flooded with immigrants have overtaken some sections of the community. There is concern amongst some that the release of Mein Kampf at such a time might fan the flames of a new racist tide in Germany. While acknowledging the value to scholarship of the new edition, many commentators have pointed out that far right movements are not generally known for scholarly thinking, and that the criticisms included in the new edition are unlikely to have any effect on their enthusiasm for the text.
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