The republication of portions of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” a proposed plan now on hold, has pitched historians, Holocaust groups, and the German state of Bavaria into a tense debate about confronting Germany’s darkest chapter.
Will a German magazine’s attempt to republish excerpts of the anti-Semitic manifesto propagate hate and inspire neo-Nazi groups? Or will it deflate the aura that surrounds the restricted work and expose it as a confused, rambling screed?
Peter McGee was counting on the latter. The British publisher had planned to run three 16-page segments of “Mein Kampf” as pamphlets inserted into issues of German magazine “Zeitungszeugen” starting next week. Critical commentary of the text was to accompany the excerpts. As of midday Wednesday, however, the plan was put on hold under threat of legal action from the state of Bavaria.
“It’s long overdue that a broad public should get the opportunity to deal with the original text,” McGee had told German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.
“It will be the first time “Mein Kampf” has been published in Germany since the end of World War II,” wrote the Washington Post’s Political Bookworm blog, before the plan was suspended.
Holocaust groups, not surprisingly, were infuriated by the proposed publication.
"Holocaust survivors are appalled at the insensitivity and crass commercialism that would motivate the publication of Hitler's hate-filled book in the historic cradle of the Nazi terror regime," Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, told AFP.
"The mercenary effort to publish this infamous work in Germany is not only a moral offense to the memory of all Nazi victims -- Jew and non-Jew -- but is also an insult to modern-day Germany which has mightily struggled to separate itself from its dark past."
Steinberg, along with other Holocaust groups, called on the Bavarian state government, which holds the rights to “Mein Kampf,” to take legal action to block its republication, and it seems officials listened. Bavaria said the magazine’s plans to republish portions of the book violated copyright laws. As of Wednesday evening, McGee said he still plans to run the critical commentary, but plans to republish portions of “Mein Kampf” are postponed as he seeks “legal clarity,” reported the Washington Post.
Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" — "My Struggle" in English — while he was languishing in a Bavarian prison after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. The rambling and anti-Semitic manifesto-cum-autobiography outlined his ideology, including his views on Aryan racial purity and his hatred of Jews and opposition to Communism. Following World War II, the Allies gave the rights to "Mein Kampf" to the Bavarian state government.
“‘Mein Kampf,’ is not banned in Germany as commonly believed,” writes the AP, “but Bavaria has used its ownership of the copyright to prevent its publication so far.”
What’s even more interesting, however, is that the book’s copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death, which means Bavaria has rights to “Mein Kampf” only through 2015. It’s likely, then, that this will be the first of many attempts to republish the work.
Though Holocaust groups and Jewish organizations like the Central Council of Jews in Germany are worried the republication “could make Hitler a bestselling author in the 21st century and become a sort of blueprint for extremist groups,” as the Washington Post writes, the book is widely available inside Germany and around the world.
Every German couple who got married between 1936 and 1945 received a copy of “Mein Kampf” as a wedding gift from the Nazi state, a total of some 10 million copies, British historian Ian Kershaw, told the AFP, which means the book became very prevalent in German homes. And the book is widely available on the Internet in numerous translations, as a digital book, and in other countries, where there are fewer restrictions on its publication. According to the Wall Street Journal and AFP, it’s even available in German libraries for academic study and in Hebrew translations in Israel.
Still, “Mein Kampf” retains an aura of the forbidden in Germany. Still haunted by its dark past, the country outlaws Nazi symbols, has debated whether a far-right political party should be banned, and considers Hitler’s book with trepidation.
That, McGee has argued, is exactly why the manifesto should be republished.
“The problem with this book in Germany is that because it's unavailable, because it's been blocked in Germany, it's been allowed to develop this mystique,” he told the AP. “If you shine a very bright light on it so people can see it for themselves with some structure and analysis, I think it will be one small part of demystifying the aura, the taboo that exists around it.”
In fact, writes the Wall Street Journal, publishing “Mein Kampf” will serve to remove the allure of the forbidden from Nazi manifesto, rendering the book and its twisted ideology impotent.
“Suppressing books is almost always a terrible idea, and so is suppressing history,” writes the Journal’s editorial board. "Neo-Nazi fringe groups have existed in Germany for decades, their allure somewhat enhanced by their associations with the forbidden. Publishing 'Mein Kampf' will do nothing to broaden its appeal. But it can help make the topic as boring as the book itself.”
For now, the fate of McGee’s republishing project remains to be seen.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.