April 26, 2012

Germany plans to reissue Hitler’s Mein Kampf

by

The Guardian reported yesterday that the German state Bavaria is supporting the publication of a new version of Mein Kampf.

With copyright ownership expiring in 2015, it appears the state is prepared to lift its ban on Hitler’s infamous book as a way of ensuring the reissue contains the appropriate amount of critical commentary and interpretation.

Anticipating that without its support the title would republish and be presented irresponsibly, Bavarian finance minister Markus Soeder explained that the new version will be directed toward students, intending to show the “worldwide catastrophe” resulting from Hitler’s beliefs.

Publication has been forbidden in Germany since 1945 as has flaunting it in public or displaying it prominently in a shop window.

Critics of the ban have long argued it was ripe for overturning, particularly at a time when it is readily available in other countries and the book is downloadable on the internet.

Academics are working on producing an annotated version of the book which will include commentaries on the text that will seek to dissect and rubbish Hitler’s arguments. A separate, more simplified version for schools is being produced together with academics from the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, which Bavaria’s finance minister, Markus Söder, said was necessary, as more people would be reading it.

Mein Kampf, it’s widely known, details Hitler’s anti-Semitism, militarism, and political theory. More than ten million copies were sold or given away during the Second World War — including one to every newly married German couple — earning Hitler considerable royalties and helping fund his rise to power. The book came to be available in three German editions and six English editions before being prohibited by Bavaria, which acquired the copyrights when Hitler’s estate was seized after his suicide.

Mein Kamp’s contents are readily available in countries across the globe and online, of course, but the German government, and Bavaria in particular, has been reluctant to release the book as a whole. Now though, with the copyright ownership due to expire, Bavaria is acknowledging that reissuing the book under state supervision is smarter than letting it emerge untethered. Again from the Guardian:

Publication has been forbidden in Germany since 1945 as has flaunting it in public or displaying it prominently in a shop window.

Academics are working on producing an annotated version of the book which will include commentaries on the text that will seek to dissect and rubbish Hitler’s arguments. A separate, more simplified version for schools is being produced together with academics from the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, which Bavaria’s finance minister, Markus Söder, said was necessary, as more people would be reading it.

“The expiration of the copyright in three years’ time might well lead to more young people reading Mein Kampf,” he said, adding that he hoped the school version would help to demystify the book – which lays out the Nazi version of Aryan racial supremacy – and emphasise the “global catastrophe that this dangerous way of thinking led to”, he added.

As well as the new German versions, Bavaria is planning to issue a new English version, in addition to an ebook and an audio book. Half a million euros is being invested in the project.

The state’s minister for science, Wolfgang Heubisch, said that without such editions “there is the danger that charlatans and neo-Nazis could take possession of this infamous work” after the copyright expires.

Despite its sensitive nature, reissuing Mein Kampf  has advocates, including Dieter Graumann, president of the German Central Council of Jews, who said he would prefer German citizens read an annotated version rather than excerpts from online sources. Just last month, however, a court in Munich ruled that British publisher Peter Magee could not sell excerpts of the book in German (see previous Moby posts here and here), leading one to speculate that the Bavarian finance ministry is thinking just as much about profits as it is demystifying Hitler.

 

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