BERLIN - Should access to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” be restricted because it propagates hate and has the potential to inspire followers? Or should it be distributed widely as evidence of the era’s horrors?
The German state of Bavaria believes the former. It holds the book’s copyright and has not allowed its publication inside Germany since the Third Reich leader’s death in 1945. Although it is not illegal to own the book, the effect of the publication ban has meant a limited availability of the book within the country.
That is changing.
British publisher Peter McGee has announced his intention to flout the ban and sell portions of “Mein Kampf.” The first 16-page excerpt will be inserted into his magazine “Zeitungszeugen” and is set to hit German newsstands this week. Critical commentary will run next to Hitler’s words.
It will be the first time “Mein Kampf” has been published in Germany since the end of World War II.
“It’s long overdue that a broad public should get the opportunity to deal with the original text,” McGee told Der Spiegel.
It is likely that there will be more editions of “Mein Kampf” to come. In Germany, a book’s copyright expires 70 years after the author’s death, which means Bavaria only has a claim to it through 2015.
Perhaps what is most interesting about the printing is how muted the hand-wringing has been in a country that is typically anxious about its past.
Yes, Bavarian officials said they are considering taking legal action. Yes, a few politicians have spoken out against it: “There is no need for excerpts of ‘Mein Kampf’ on newsstands in order to understand the inhumanity of the Nazis’ crimes,” said family minister Kristina Schröder. Yes, some Jewish groups in Germany and the United States have accused the publisher of merely wanting to make money off the fanatically anti-Semitic screed.
Still, for a country that outlaws Nazi symbols, frets over how best to memorialize and remember the dark moments of its history, and is debating whether a far-right political party should be banned, the reaction has been subdued.
Dr. Arnd Bauerkämper, an expert on National Socialism at Freie University in Berlin, called the publication a “major step” but one that most Germans are “ambivalent” about.
On one hand, he said, they have approached the book with caution because their history has shown how “democratic freedoms can be exploited for undemocratic ends.”
The worry for some, like the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, is that publishing the book could make Hitler a bestselling author in the 21st-century and become a sort of blueprint for extremist groups.
On the other hand, those searching for “Mein Kampf” can easily find it online or purchase editions published outside of Germany. Many, like Bauerkämper, believe that an expertly annotated edition would be beneficial, especially given that the book’s arguments are largely incoherent.
More than anything, it seems the passing of time has made the 700-page rant less potent.
“It would have been different 20 or 30 years ago,” Bauerkämper said, “but the contemporaries of the Third Reich are now dead or over 80.”
“It’s very long ago and it seems to be fairly far away,” he said.