Controversial Reprint of ‘Mein Kampf’ Sells Like Hotcakes in Germany

A new edition of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi manifesto has ignited a debate about history and anti-Semitism.

‘Hitler, Mein Kampf—Eine kritische Edition’ (‘Hitler, My Struggle—A Critical Edition’ in English) is featured in a bookstore in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, on Jan. 8, 2016. (Photo: Arash Sadeghian/Getty Images)

Jan 11, 2016· 3 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

It’s not every day that a nearly 100-year-old anti-Semetic manifesto becomes a modern runaway success. After being absent from German bookstores for 70 years, an annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical Mein Kampf, which clocked in at a rambling 725 pages when it was first printed, was made available for purchase in the country on Friday—and it quickly sold out.

The Institute of Contemporary History Munich-Berlin, which published the $64 tome, sold all 4,000 copies of its first run over the weekend and has 15,000 more on back order. (That’s far fewer than the roughly 1 million copies of EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey that have been sold in the nation.) This latest version, titled Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition, is also one that modern neo-Nazis might not completely recognize. The book is about 2,000 pages long and full of detailed commentary from scholars who hope to demystify and destroy the racist national ideology that was at the heart of the Nazi regime.

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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. This edition exposes the false information spread by Hitler, his downright lies and his many half-truths, which aimed at a pure propaganda effect,” the institute’s director, Andreas Wirsching, said on Friday, reported The Associated Press.

After Hitler committed suicide in 1945 at the end of World War II, the copyright for Mein Kampf was turned over to the German state of Bavaria. With the copyright expiring on Dec. 31, 2015, officials have been divided for the past several years over what to do with the text.

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In 2013, the German government ditched plans to rerelease the book to the public after complaints from activists. “Many conversations with Holocaust victims and their families have shown us that any sort of reprint of the disgraceful writings would cause enormous pain,” Bavaria’s minister of science, Ludwig Spaenle, said at the time.

However, according to the website for the Institute of Contemporary History Munich-Berlin, the independent organization decided to move forward with its plans for the annotated edition so that the text could be studied historically. The site points out that original versions of Mein Kampf have long been available in secondhand bookstores, and the English edition can be purchased online.

The plan didn’t go over well with some Jewish leaders. “Can you annotate the devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” Levi Salomon, a spokesperson for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism, said last year. “This book is outside of human logic.”

That sentiment was echoed on Friday by Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, who warned that “Holocaust survivors [will] be offended by the sale of the anti-Semitic work in bookstores again,” reported Agence France-Presse. Lauder said that the horrific consequences of Nazi ideology should be studied in school but cautioned that “it would be best to leave Mein Kampf where it belongs: the poison cabinet of history.”

With nationalism and hate on the upswing globally, supporters of the book’s publication reiterated that it’s a much-needed wake-up call about how easily prejudice can take root.

In an interview on Friday with Northern German Broadcasting, Josef Schuster, president of Germany’s Jewish Council, said this annotated version of Mein Kampf will “undo the myth of this book” and reveal how “completely wrong and ridiculous Hitler’s theories…were,” reported The Guardian.

An op-ed published on Monday in The Guardian by Paul Mason, the economics editor for Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom, suggests that the book should be required reading, “because the more we read Mein Kampf, the more we can understand how an ordinary racist loudmouth, with a grudge and a fantasy, turned an entire continent toward genocide.”

“Since 1945, every generation in the educated world has been taught ‘the lessons’ of the rise of Nazism,” Mason pointed out. But that hasn’t stopped the hate that led to the Syrian refugee crisis, that sparked the growth of the Islamic State, and that catalyzed a new generation of right-wing nationalists to rise in Germany itself.

“Amid all this, the danger is not just another demagogue toting a modern Mein Kampf; there are thousands of little Mein Kampfs being written on social media by people who feel victimized and betrayed and have come to the conclusion that someone else’s death, starvation, expulsion, or torture would solve their problems,” Mason wrote.

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Wirsching, the head of the institute, seems to agree. “At a time when the well-known formulae of far-right xenophobia are threatening to become socially acceptable again in Europe, it is necessary to research and critically present the appalling driving forces of national socialism and its deadly racism,” he said.
Requests for the annotated version to be translated into several European languages, into English, and into Chinese have been received, Wirsching said. No time line for the publication of additional copies in German or other languages has been released.