Do Asian readers know about the anti-Semitism in 'Mein Kampf'?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been giving state officials copies of Adolf Hitler's book, while the book is a bestseller in India.

David Guttenfelder/AP
Kim Jong Un has reportedly given copies of 'Mein Kampf' to North Korean state officials as gifts.

The latest "it" book in some Asian countries is evidence of a startling new trend: growing interest in “Mein Kampf,” Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic Nazi manifesto.

Hitler’s autobiography is gaining popularity in North Korea and India, where fans appear to be relatively unaware of its anti-Semitic message and instead embrace the book for other reasons. The news, coming on the heels of German efforts to republish the anti-Semitic autobiography early last year, has revived debates about balancing freedom of speech and of the press with efforts to restrict hateful speech.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave state officials copies of “Mein Kampf” as gifts on his birthday last January, according to a report in New Focus International, a newspaper run by North Korean defectors. “It seems the book was intended to promote a study of Hitler’s economic reforms, and was not necessarily meant as an endorsement of Nazism,” reports NPR.

“Kim Jong-un gave a lecture to high-ranking officials, stressing that we must pursue the policy of Byungjin (Korean for ‘in tandem’) in terms of nuclear and economic development. Mentioning that Hitler managed to rebuild Germany in a short time following its defeat in WWI, Kim Jong-un issued an order for the Third Reich to be studied in depth and asked that practical applications be drawn from it,” a source told New Focus International in a telephone interview.

And in India, the book has become a bestseller, Businessweek reports.

“Lacking the sting of anti-Semitism but troubling nonetheless, the Hitler brand is gaining strength in India,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports. “Mein Kampf is a bestseller, and bossy people are often nicknamed Hitler on television and in movies.”

Indeed, Hitler has become so popular in India that movies, soap operas, and even retail stores have been named after the Nazi leader. But in India, where European history is not widely taught and Hitler’s anti-Semitism is largely unknown, the admiration has less to do with Hitler’s hatred of Jews and more to do with hero worship of strong military leaders.

The growing popularity of “Mein Kampf" in North Korea and India follows on the heels of efforts to republish portions of the book in Germany in early 2012, more than 85 years after its initial publication. 

There, editors at the German magazine “Zeitungszeugen” had planned to run three 16-page installments of “Mein Kampf” as pamphlets inserted into issues of the magazine, arguing that exposing the work would remove its mystique and the “forbidden” appeal surrounding it.

The decision launched the country into a tense debate about whether republishing would “propagate hate and inspire neo-Nazi groups” or “deflate the aura that surrounds the restricted work and expose it as a confused, rambling screed.” 

As we reported last January, 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 and the book is widely available online and across the world.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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