'Mein Kampf' takes off in Europe, 70 years after Hitler's death

Hitler's autobiography has become a bestseller in Germany, while an Italian newspaper is distributing copies to readers. 

Fabio Frustaci/AP
Il Giornale newspaper in a newsstand with Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' in Rome

"Mein Kampf" is making a comeback.  Adolf Hitler's notorious autobiography is gaining popularity in Europe, having become a bestseller upon the expiration of the German state copyright that was initially used to prohibit reprinting it.

Since January, only an annotated version of "Mein Kampf" has been available in German bookstores, which each carried only a small number of copies. Nonetheless, massive interest among readers made "Mein Kampf" a bestseller within weeks.

With more than 3,000 annotations, the new version is meant to underscore lies and flaws in Hitler's arguments. Under German law, publishing "Mein Kampf" sans annotations would be an act of sedition – which is exactly what Der Schelm, a right-wing publishing company, plans to do, and is now under investigation for it.

"This book is too dangerous for the general public," library historian Florian Sepp told the Washington Post, but Schelm argues that publishing the original version of "Mein Kampf" serves as "historical documentation."

To increase the book's accessibility, on Saturday the Italian newspaper Il Giornale distributed copies of "Mein Kampf" to its Saturday edition readers. Jewish groups in Italy were not happy.

"The free distribution ... is a squalid fact that is light years away from all logic of studying the Shoah and the different factors that led the whole of humanity to sink into an abyss of unending hatred, death, and violence," Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, told the Italian news agency ANSA. "It must be stated clearly: The Giornale's operation is indecent."

The Giornale, a center-right daily paper, defended its decision, saying that with a new version of "Mein Kampf" annotated by an Italian historian, the goal was to prevent the past's mistakes from being repeated.

"The worries of our friends within the Italian Jewish community, who have always seen us as unconditional allies, deserve all our respect," wrote Alessandro Sallusti, the Giornale's director. He said that most editorial conversations about the "Mein Kampf" decision were "legitimate and understandable," but disagreed with claims that the paper published the book with "apologetic intention." Some argued that the Giornale published "Mein Kampf" to downplay Hitler's criminal legacy.

"Let's not take advantage of such a tragedy," Sallusti responded. "Because with certain winds that blow here and there in Europe and in the Middle East it is necessary to understand what shapes the evil can take – in order not to repeat a fatal mistake."

Still, any interest among European readers in "Mein Kampf" is enough to raise suspicions, as antisemitism on the continent has been on the rise again in recent years.

While authorities have made arrangements with online booksellers like Amazon to ban the sale of "Mein Kampf" in German, new copies of the book have become available online throughout the world. Hindu nationalists use it as a self-help book in India, the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has stocked copies of it in Athens, and a comic-book edition of "Mein Kampf" is available in Japan.

"I am absolutely against the publication of 'Mein Kampf,' even with annotations. Can you annotate the Devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?" said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism in Berlin. "This book is outside of human logic."

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