Reprinting Hitler's autobiography “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle) was long prohibited in Germany — a country that considered the book too dangerous to be read.
Now, it's a German bestseller.
About 85,000 copies of a recently published annotated version have been sold since it was first released one year ago, according to German news agency dpa. Only 4,000 copies of the book had been printed in the first run last year. However, soon after it was published, it immediately became one of the best-selling nonfiction books in a development the publisher of the edition calls “overwhelming.”
It's almost certainly not because of anything German bookstores have been doing: In fact, most had virtually hidden the book from customers. Some had refrained from advertising it, while others ordered only a single copy. But online sales picked up, and in-store sales soon followed.
The German copyright for “Mein Kampf” was held by the state of Bavaria, which upheld a ban on reprinting the book for 70 years. Bookstores as well as federal regulators and historians were worried that Hitler's autobiography could be used for right-wing propaganda.
“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” library historian Florian Sepp told The Washington Post in an interview in 2015.
German authorities kept official copies of the book like a state secret. Access was granted only to professionals who formally requested it. Critics had claimed that banning the book from being reprinted added to the mystery surrounding it and did more harm than good.
The secrecy ended when the copyright expired in December 2015.
However, the book that is currently topping the German bestseller lists is far different from Hitler's original version. The new 2,000-page edition is heavily annotated with remarks by experts to help put Hitler's comments into context.
The publishers think that this solution exposes Hitler's destructive and violent ideology.
Today's right-wing movements, which include the Alternative für Deutschland party, have so far refrained from using Hitler's brutal ideology to justify their contemporary goals.
Most of today's right-wing politicians acknowledge that “Mein Kampf” laid out a violent vision that would lead to the Holocaust and World War II.
After it was republished in Germany early last year, “Mein Kampf” became even more widely accessible in Europe in June when the Italian newspaper Il Giornale distributed copies of the book to all of its readers — a decision that drew heavy criticism from Jewish groups in the country.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, as saying: “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.”
“It must be stated clearly: The Giornale’s operation is indecent,” Gattegna said in a statement on the announcement of the paper’s decision.
But the center-right daily, which is owned by the family of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said its version of the text was annotated by an Italian historian and was distributed with the goal of preventing the mistakes of the past from being repeated.
As for the controversy, Alessandro Sallusti, the paper’s director, in an editorial said that most of the discussions related to the publication were “legitimate and understandable.”
“The worries of our friends within the Italian Jewish community, who have always seen us as unconditional allies, deserve all our respect,” Sallusti wrote.
However, he also said that he strongly disagreed with those saying the paper published the autobiography with an“apologetic intention.” Critics had previously argued that the newspaper might have distributed the book in an attempt to underplay Hitler's crimes.
Sallusti strongly refuted such allegations, saying: “Let's not take advantage of such a tragedy.”
“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,” Sallusti wrote, referring to Hitler's rise to power.
An earlier version of this post was published Feb. 23, 2016. It was updated Jan. 3, 2017.
Monica Dorligh contributed translations to this post.