In 1924, nine years before he came to power, Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") in a Munich prison cell, where he was serving time for attempting to overthrow Germany's parliamentary government. Part memoir, part manifesto, and part anti-Semitic screed, Mein Kampf was published a year later, and went on to become the foundational text for the Nazi party, eventually selling more than 10 million copies in Germany. The book outlines Hitler's warped worldview, encompassing his hatred of Jews, his belief in the superiority of the Aryan race, and his plans to expand the German empire eastward at the expense of the Slavs. Mein Kampf hasn't been printed in Germany since the Nazi leader died in the final days of World War II, over concerns that it could incite Neo-Nazis and revive Hitler's abominable legacy. But now, the German state of Bavaria, which owns the copyright to Mein Kampf, is planning to republish the book for the first time in nearly 70 years. Here, a guide to this historic development:
Was Mein Kampf banned in Germany?
No. Unlike the swastika and the "Heil Hitler" salute, it is technically legal to publish and read Mein Kampf. However, Bavaria has used its copyright claim to effectively bar reprintings of the book. As recently as January, Bavaria succeeded in preventing a British publisher from reprinting annotated passages of Mein Kampf in Germany.
Why is Bavaria publishing it now?
The copyright is set to expire in 2015, when anyone will be allowed to reprint the material, and Bavaria wants to preempt irresponsible publishers who might fail to underscore the book's vileness. Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soeder says the state version will be annotated by historians so that readers will understand "the global catastrophe that this dangerous way of thinking led to." Bavaria seeks to demystify Mein Kampf, point out the nonsense behind Hitler's thinking, and make the book as "commercially unattractive" as possible. The state's version of Mein Kampf will also be distributed in schools.
How are Jewish groups responding?
The reactions are mixed. Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, tells Agence France Presse that Bavaria has made a responsible decision. "If it is going to be released, then I prefer seeing a competent annotated version from the Bavarian state than profit-seekers trying to make money with Nazis." However, some Jewish groups are uneasy. Deirdre Berger, an official with the American Jewish Committee, says no one should "underestimate the potential danger to this day of this book."
Is modern Germany ready for Mein Kampf?
Some say Mein Kampf's re-publication is long overdue. "Germany is democratic and mature enough to form its own picture of Hitler's book," says Rafel Seligmann, publisher of the Jewish Voice From Germany newspaper. However, its republication is coming at a time when "right-wing groups have grown emboldened" throughout Europe, says Alexander Nazaryan at the New York Daily News. "Time will tell whether its decision to publish Mein Kampf is the right one."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Pope Francis' American problem
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- A brief history of the Christmas present
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Your weekly streaming recommendation: The One I Love
- 10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2014
Subscribe to the Week