WASHINGTON DC —
Annotated reprints of Hitler's semi-autobiographical book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, are going on sale in Germany and elsewhere this week, after the copyright to the book expired at the end of last year. The new German publication of Hitler's political manifesto for the first time after 70 years has sparked a debate about whether it is right to reprint the anti-Semitic work.
The German state of Bavaria, which held the copyright to Hitler's book from 1945, refused anyone the rights to publish it out of respect for victims of the Nazis. But on January 1, the work entered the public domain, and several publishers have prepared annotated reprints for sale.
Jewish communities say the book is a stark reminder of the evil it inspired.
"To find Mein Kampf in the windows of bookstores would be...I just can't imagine it. I hope this will be prevented for going against sedition laws," said Charlotte Knobloch of the Center for the Israelite Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.
The book is not banned in Germany and there is little authorities can do.
"It's not easy to ban this for copyright reasons; however, anything that seems to be a hate crime can be pursued. Criminal offenses related to a hate crime will be very systematically pursued in the future," said Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister.
There also are arguments that the 800-page book should be demystified, and that the best way to do that is to publish a properly annotated edition.
"Mein Kampf can't be read like a bible. It has to be put into context, with sociologists and historians. If we do it like that, it will no longer have a negative influence on the public, compared to what we see today with [the anti-immigrant group] Pegida for instance, who quote Mein Kampf without thinking," said Timo Schnirlein, an engineer.
Hitler's book is banned in several countries, including Austria and the Netherlands, and it is taboo in Israel, where only abbreviated copies are available for study. Some Israeli scholars, like Dan Micham of the Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research, believe there is a need for the complete version.
"Mein Kampf is an important book because Hitler spent a lot of time writing and phrasing it, so it has basic ideas from his thoughts, of which parts were implemented and other parts not; but, even the parts that were not implemented have importance, to understand the background in which he grew,” said Micham.
Many Israelis are ambivalent.
“It’s complicated. On the one hand I’m not thrilled about the fact that Mein Kampf can be in even wider dissemination around the world, given the hateful content that it contains, but on the other hand, it’s kind of impossible to control speech, and I’m not even sure that we should,” said Ayo Oppenheimer, a Jerusalem resident.
Mein Kampf outlines Hitler's ideology and is considered the basis of his politics of National Socialism. He wrote it in a Bavarian prison while serving a sentence for treason after his failed 1923 putsch in Munich.