Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' Is Back In German Bookstores After 70 Years

Jan 8, 2016
Originally published on January 8, 2016 6:57 pm

A reprint of Adolf Hitler's notorious autobiography, Mein Kampf, or "My Struggle," is for sale in German bookstores today for the first time in 70 years.

The annotated edition is being published by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History, and its editors say the new version points out Hitler's lies and errors and includes critical commentary on how the original version, published in the 1920s, influenced Nazi atrocities.

Given its muted unveiling in Berlin, it's hard to imagine the reprinted edition becoming a German best-seller, as it was during the Nazi era, when there were 12 million copies in print. By comparison, there are only a few thousand copies of the new edition.

At Dussmann, the German capital's largest bookstore, there was only one copy of the annotated reprint for sale on Friday. It was tucked onto a shelf on the back wall of the top floor, mixed in with other books on Nazism.

The store said any additional copies would have to be ordered online.

That any German bookstore would carry even a single copy of Mein Kampf — even a reprint peppered with criticism — irks Ulrich Ripke, a 42-year-old teacher from Berlin.

"It's simply rubbish," he says. Annotated reprints "should be done for books that are worth reading, and this one isn't worth reading."

Another Dussmann customer, Karl-Sigurd Hesse, says he wouldn't buy a copy, either.

The 64-year-old German transplant — he's originally from Madison, Wis. — says as a freedom of speech issue, he's OK with the manifesto being sold now that the ban on reprinting it has expired. The Bavarian government — which had been given the copyright by Allied forces in 1945, following World War II — had imposed the ban.

"This is a really bad analogy, but book-burning is book-burning, whether you do it through a law or do it personally," Hesse says.

His German wife, Sieglind, shoots him a worried glance.

"We don't plan to read it, right?" she asks, after grabbing his hand. Hesse assures her they won't.

In a statement Friday, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder also dismissed the annotated reprint, saying Hitler's autobiography belongs "in the poison cabinet of history."

"Mein Kampf should have been properly studied 90 years ago," Lauder said. "Hitler's lies should have been rebutted back then. Alas, we all know that because that didn't happen Hitler felt emboldened to embark on the biggest mass murder in the history of mankind."

Magnus Brechtken, deputy director of the Munich institute publishing the annotated reprint, says people shouldn't be afraid of the new version. "It was never a forbidden book," he says. "It was only forbidden to reprint it in German."

Even during the ban, Brechtken says, copies of Mein Kampf that survived the war were available in some German antique bookshops, which is where he found the edition that he used for his doctoral dissertation in the '80s.

The text can even be found online, he says.

"So what we are doing," he says, "is just giving anyone who is interested in Mein Kampf the necessary information to put this book into the correct historical context."

And to correct the errors. For example, Hitler claimed in the book that he became an anti-Semite while he lived in Vienna between 1908 and 1913. But Brechtken says history shows the Fuehrer's hatred for Jews didn't develop until much later — while he was in post-World War I Munich.

Another inaccuracy the reprint highlights is Hitler's claim that the government of the Weimar Republic mistreated disabled World War I veterans. Brechtken says it was the Nazis who actually killed thousands of those veterans years later.

Mein Kampf is the only book from the Nazi era for which there had been no German annotated version, because of the ban. "And we are just filling this gap, so to speak, so there is [a] full overview on this historical text," he says.

Josef Schuster, who heads the Jewish Central Council in Germany, says he plans to read the annotated reprint. He's read excerpts of Mein Kampf in the past. His father, who survived the Holocaust and moved to what was then Palestine, owned a copy.

Schuster thinks it's unlikely the reprint will find a big following.

"This version is no longer a right-wing publication," he says. "On the contrary, it's a book which shows what a botch job it is."

But the German Jewish leader warns that far-right factions that already embrace anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner views may try and use it to promote their agendas.

In short, Mein Kampf may have long been available, but reprints make it more accessible, Schuster says.

That worries Jeremy Adler of King's College in London, too. In an interview aired Friday by German Public Radio, the British expert on German literature said: "In principle, I am against reintroducing seditious, racist texts and spreading them around."

He said if the Munich institute wants to put out a critical edition of Mein Kampf, it should do so without the original text — rather than putting Hitler's hateful manifesto back in German bookstores.

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Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For the first time since World War II, you can walk into a bookstore in Germany and buy a copy of Adolf Hitler's autobiography, "Mein Kampf," or, my struggle. The new annotated edition points out historical inaccuracies. It includes critical commentary on the original version's role in Nazi atrocities. But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin, many Germans don't want the manifesto reprinted at all.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: It's hard to imagine "Mein Kampf," becoming a German best-seller, at least not here in the German capital.

At Berlin's largest bookstore, called Dussmann, there is only one copy of the annotated reprint on the shelf. That shelf, which is for books dealing with Nazism, is located on a back wall of the top floor. Even so, the fact any version of "Mein Kampf," is for sale irritates many Dussmann customers, including Ulrich Ripke.

ULRICH RIPKE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He calls it rubbish and says reprints should be limited to books that are worth reading, which Hitler's book isn't. Customer Karl-Sigurd Hesse says he won't buy a copy either. But the Madison, Wis., native says it's OK for the Nazi-era best-seller to be sold in bookstores now that a Bavarian ban on reprinting "Mein Kampf," that had been in effect since 1945 has expired.

KARL-SIGURD HESSE: This is a really bad analogy, but book burning is book burning whether you do it through a law or whether you do it personally.

NELSON: His German wife, Sieglind, shoots him a worried glance.

SIEGLIND: (Speaking German).

HESSE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She asks him, "we don't plan to read it, right?" Hesse assures her they won't. Historian Magnus Brechtken says there's no reason to be concerned about the annotated version being published by his Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. He points out that Hitler's autobiography long been available online, at many antique bookshops and even in some libraries.

MAGNUS BRECHTKEN: It was never a forbidden book. It was only forbidden to reprint it in German. So what we are doing is just giving anyone who is interested in "Mein Kampf," the necessary information to counter, so to speak, the misinformation which is deriving from having only the copy itself.

NELSON: For example, Hitler claimed in the book that he became an anti-Semite while he lived in Vienna. Brechtken the Fuehrer's hatred of Jews didn't develop until later in post-World War I Munich. Brechtken says another inaccuracy is Hitler's claim that the Weimar Republic government mistreated crippled World War I veterans. The historian says it was the Nazis who actually killed thousands of those veterans years later. Brechtken says "Mein Kampf," is the only book from the Nazi era for which there has been no annotated version.

BRECHTKEN: And we are just filling this gap, so to speak, so that there is full overview on this historical text.

NELSON: Josef Schuster, who heads the Jewish Central Council in Germany, says he plans to read the annotated reprint.

JOSEF SCHUSTER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: The German Jewish leader says he doesn't think the reprint is going to find a big following, but he says far right factions that embrace anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner views could try and use it to promote their agenda. He says while "Mein Kampf," may have been available before, reprinting it will make it more accessible. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.