June 6, 2016

German publisher reprints Mein Kampf, which may be illegal


An original first edition of Mein Kampf. Image via Wikipedia.

An original first edition of Mein Kampf. Image via Wikipedia.

How do you publish Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf? It carries the (very) dubious honor of being a wildly popular book that can only be published with the most fine-tuned sensitivity to presentation and profit motive, if indeed it should be published at all.

Of course, this isn’t news; Hitler’s book has traveled a rocky road to publication and translation since the late thirties. After the copyright’s postwar reversion to the German state, the government refused to license reprints until this year, which marks the expiration of the copyright. The officially sanctioned edition, a 2,000-page, heavily annotated two-volume set, was published earlier this year by the Institute of Contemporary History, upon which it sold out almost instantly.

But these questions — which have dogged publishers for decades — were complicated even further when a German publisher made the decision earlier this year to go ahead and reprint the original version without annotation, which may violate German law. Melissa Eddy reports for the New York Times:

State prosecutors in the German city of Leipzig, where the publisher, Der Schelm, is based, are investigating whether they can press charges. Last week, prosecutors in Bamberg opened a separate investigation after a bookseller, who was not identified, advertised Der Schelm’s edition.

Although Hitler’s two-volume treatise, written from 1924 to 1927 and laying out his ideas on race and violence, is widely available on the internet, the annotated version is the only one that is legal in Germany. The 3,500 comments accompanying the text provide context for the work, and they are aimed, in part, at trying to prevent a new generation from taking up Nazi ideologies.

“Promoting an edition without annotations is considered a criminal offense,” Christopher Rosenbusch, a spokesman for prosecutors in Bamberg, said on Wednesday.

Der Schelm’s edition, billed as “unchanged and without comment, for critical assessment” is, according to the house, meant to allow discriminating readers to “have the courage to make your own judgment.” Which is a fairly blithe way to describe the danger posed and damage wrought by Nazi ideology, and especially so in light of the fact that Der Schelm also publishes a German translation of Henry Ford’s The International Jew, a collection of anti-Semitic pamphlets Hitler shouted out in the first edition of… you guessed it, Mein Kempf.

As Jesse Bernstein points out in Tablet

To suggest that Mein Kampf is just another sociopolitical ideology that should be studied like any other is a mistake. To ask readers of this new printing to read Mein Kampf with an open mind, as Der Schelm does, laughs in the face of open-mindedness because… it’s Mein Kampf!

Germany, understandably, has unique legal standards for what constitutes dangerous and illegal speech. As nativism and the new, far-right Alternative for Germany party gain prominence in the wake of Europe’s recent immigration crisis, it’s understandable that the German government would be hugely sensitive about how and in what form Hitler’s text gets published, now that it no longer holds full control.

If the government chooses to prosecute, the burden will be on Der Schelm to establish what, if anything, a good faith argument for the social good of a non-annotated edition might be. In the current political climate, arguing for context-free advocacy of fascism is going to be an uphill battle—to say the least.



Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.