German magazine caves in battle to reprint Hitler's 'Mein Kampf'

A German magazine's bid to reprint excerpts of 'Mein Kampf' to promote a discussion of the past was blocked by a long-standing German ban on reprinting or selling the text.

Thomas Peter/Reuters
A magazine supplement with an image of Adolf Hitler and the title 'The Unreadable Book' is pictured in Berlin on Thursday. Excerpts from Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' will be blacked out from the magazine supplement due to go on sale in Germany on Thursday following the threat of legal action from the state of Bavaria, the publishers of the magazine said on Wednesday.

A German magazine has backed down in its battle to reprint parts of Adolf Hitler's book "Mein Kampf," opting to black out the pages containing the excerpts in order to avoid legal problems. 

The British publisher of the German magazine Zeitungszeugen, Peter McGee, intended to print excerpts of the book in today's issue of the magazine. “It is long overdue that the German public is exposed to the original text,” Mr. McGee told Der Spiegel magazine. However, legal proceedings initiated by the Bavarian state government dissuaded him.

The Bavarian state government was named the copyright holder of “Mein Kampf” by the Allied Forces after World War II and has blocked every other attempt to have the book printed and sold in Germany since 1945. In order not to jeopardize the entire issue of Zeitungszeugen (which translates as “newspaper witnesses”), Mr. McGee changed his mind just before his magazine went to print, he said. 

Germany has strict laws prohibiting the display of Nazi symbols and the distribution of texts inciting anti-Semitism and racial hatred, but "Mein Kampf," originally published in two parts in 1925 and 1926, is not entirely banned. Editions printed before 1945 can be owned and purchased in second-hand bookshops or online and students and scientists can check them out at libraries. However, it cannot be reprinted and sold. After World War II, only a handful of books containing passages from the text – always accompanied by explanatory notes – were published.

“It’s a symbolic measure,” says Edith Raim from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich. “Germany has a singular responsibility toward the victims of the Nazi regime. It can’t be seen making money from the writings of the worst war criminal ever.”

In neo-Nazi circles the book has almost iconic value, says Mrs. Raim. Determined right-wingers will get their hands on the book, whatever the legal situation, she believes, and critical works such as the one she is working on will not appeal to them – if it gets published, that is. 

“Our book won’t find any buyers in the neo-Nazi scene. It’s going to be a solid scientific work," she says.

Horst Pöttker, professor for journalism at Dortmund Technical University, wrote the commentary for the excerpts that were blacked out in Zeitungszeugen. "I want as many people in Germany as possible to read a book that had such a strong impact on German history,” he says.

Zeitungszeugen is a weekly magazine, first published in 2009 with an initial circulation of 300,000, later selling about 50,000 copies a week. Each issue contains reproductions of a selection of German newspapers originally printed between 1933 and 1945 and a sleeve of present-day commentary from a pool of German historians, some of them respected authorities like Wolfgang Benz and Hans Mommsen. The reprintings include Nazi titles like “Völkischer Beobachter” and “Der Angriff,” originally published by Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The fact that the reproductions are easily removed from the commentary sleeve led to accusations that British publisher McGee was trying to profit from Nazi propaganda under the pretext of serving historical interest. In 2009 the Bavarian justice ministry had parts of the second issue containing “Völkischer Beobachter” confiscated, but a Munich court ruled that Zeitungszeugen acted as an educational tool and as such did not violate any German laws.

The plans to reprint parts of “Mein Kampf” have revived the debate about McGee’s motives. Charlotte Knobloch, the former president of the Jewish Council in Germany, says she cannot see any value in the magazine. “Most Germans have a very enlightened approach to their past,” she says. “For those who do need a history lesson, this pamphlet is unsuited.”

In 2015, Bavaria's copyright for “Mein Kampf” expires. If the Bavarian government gets its way, the ban on reprints will remain. “The dissemination of national socialist ideas continues to be a criminal offense even after the copyright for ‘Mein Kampf’ ends,” the government said in a statement.

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