Hitler’s murder manifesto to be re-published

Heard around the world: 5.2m copies of Mein Kampf, in 11 languages, had been sold by 1939. © PA

Mein Kampf, the book which outlined the Nazis’ racial theories, will be published in Germany for the first time since 1945. But should access to Hitler’s genocidal ramblings be restricted?

In 1924, a former German army corporal, languishing in prison, wrote a book outlining a series of conspiracy theories. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler said ethnic Germans were part of a master race known as ‘Aryans’. Jews, who promoted communism, were their eternal enemies. And the mentally and physically disabled were a drain on resources.

It seemed merely an incoherent rant by the leader of a fringe movement. But, when its author assumed control of most of Europe, it provided the justification for the greatest crime in history — the Holocaust — and a ruinous attempt to expand German domination.

The book has not been published in Germany since Hitler’s death in 1945. But next month, when the Bavarian government’s copyright over it expires, the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) in Munich will release a limited edition of 3,500-4,000 copies of Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition.

The IfZ will challenge Hitler’s views throughout the book, presenting his words alongside around 3,500 annotations. ‘Our principle was that there should be no page with Hitler’s text without critical annotations,’ says Dr Christian Hartmann, who leads the historians publishing the book. ‘Hitler is interrupted, criticised, refuted if necessary.’

But some Jewish groups say the decision will encourage anti-semitism. ‘Can you annotate the Devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?’ asked Levi Salomon, of the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism, in February. ‘This book is outside of human logic.’

Mein Kampf was highly influential in Nazi Germany. A special edition was issued to mark Hitler’s 50th birthday in 1939; the ideas in it were taught at school; and it was commonly owned or given as a present.

Its distribution remains globally controversial. It was banned in Russia in 2010, amid concerns over a spate of hate attacks, and a Labour MP called for a debate on banning its sale in Britain earlier this year.

And others argue we do not need the annotations at all. We already know this book contributed to mass murder. We can be trusted to read and analyse it ourselves as part of a broader process of historical enquiry, without being told what to think.

For your eyes only

Some say this manifesto for genocide belongs only in the dustbin of history. Hitler murdered six million Jews and started a world war. Printing his ideas will make them seem mainstream; they should be discarded unread.

Dr Andreas Wirsching, the IfZ’s director, responds: ‘We have to strip away the allure of this book and show the reality’. By publishing and contradicting Hitler’s ideas, they can debunk them. Ideas, however abhorrent, can only be defeated if they are understood.

You Decide

  1. Would you be interested in reading Mein Kampf?
  2. Should Mein Kampf be published and if so, will critical annotations be helpful?

Activities

  1. Write down five questions which you would like to ask about Mein Kampf. How many of them would reading the book help you to answer?
  2. Write to Dr Christian Hartmann explaining why you agree or disagree with his decision to publish the book with annotations.

Some People Say...

“Some ideas are so vile that there is no point hearing them.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this have a wider relevance?
If the sale of Mein Kampf is restricted, it may set a precedent for other publications considered too offensive to read. Advocates argue that this can be useful in preventing hate speech and prejudice. But opponents will be concerned that this may restrict free speech. Academics, in particular, are keen to analyse work such as Mein Kampf.
Is anti-Semitism still a problem in the UK and Europe?
Anti-Semitic attacks still take place: the killings at a kosher supermarket in France (in the days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre) were a particularly shocking example. In Britain, the Community Security trust said there were 44 violent anti-Semitic attacks between January and June this year — including two which saw ‘extreme violence’ used.

Word Watch

Prison
Hitler was arrested in 1923 after attempting to overthrow the government in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. He was convicted of treason. He could have been executed, but sympathetic judges sentenced him to a five-year term and he was released after only nine months.
Mein Kampf
This translates as My Struggle.
Fringe movement
The Nazis won just 32 seats when they first fought an election in 1924, and by 1928 had won just 2.6% of the vote. Their electoral results improved after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 caused a major economic depression, and by 1933 Hitler had been appointed Chancellor.
Copyright
The Bavarian government have held the copyright since the allied forces gave it to them at the end of the Second World War. But after 70 years, their copyright runs out on 1 January 2016.
Limited edition
Each copy will cost 59 euros and run to 1,948 pages.
Anti-semitism
See our briefing on this subject under ‘Become An Expert’.
Hate attacks
A non-governmental organisation that tracks racist violence in Russia says at least 60 people were killed and 306 injured in hate attacks in 2014.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.