June 14, 2016
Buy Two Publications, Get Mein Kampf for Free
by Chad Felix
It’s been a big year for Mein Kampf. Most notably, in Germany, Hitler’s racist manifesto returned to print for the first time since 1945 (albeit in heavily annotated form)—and sold out almost instantly. In Boston, a children’s museum refused to accept money accrued through sales of the book. And then, back in Germany, Der Schelm, a Leipzig-based publisher, announced plans to republish the book in its original form (without the approved annotations and notes German authorities required for recently republished edition), only to realize that that may be illegal.
And then, in Italy last week, the right-wing Italian newspaper Il Giornale was caught handing out free copies of the book—a fact that has, according to the Independent’s Lizzie Dearden, raised more than a few eyebrows. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, for example, called the action “squalid.”
According to an editorial from Il Giornale, written in defense of the campaign and published on June 11th, the complimentary copies are part of a larger effort by the paper to help people “understand the crimes of Nazism,” and copies were not, as had been previously reported, given away for free—at least, not exactly. Only people who had purchased an issue of the journal, as well as a copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—William Shirer’s massive (and massively hailed) history of the Nazis—received a complimentary Mein Kampf.
The paper’s argument for offering the book seems sound enough: one must read Mein Kampf to truly understand the Third Reich. Further, as editor Alessandro Sallusti writes, one must read the book “to prevent [evil’s] return, perhaps in a new disguise.” Which is to say, the newspaper isn’t exactly standing on a soapbox emblazoned Arbeit macht frei. The book is but one piece of a larger educational effort that will grow to include a number of writings and publications concerning Nazism, of which Mein Kampf and The Rise and Fall of the third Reich are among the first. In Italy, unlike in Germany, there’s nothing illegal about distributing the book, and the edition in question, like the government-sanctioned version recently republished in Germany, includes a critical commentary, which seems in keeping with the newspaper’s aims for the campaign: to inform about The Third Reich, not promote it.
All that being said, it’s still a hard sell, and a weird look for a newspaper. I, for one, can’t really imagine offering that free gift with purchase. Nor, for that matter, accepting it.
Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.