In an age when just about anything is available online, printing a book may seem dated, but when that book is Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, printing a book rarely gets as controversial.
As we rang in the New Year and greeted 2016, another milestone was achieved — the 70-year copyright on Hitler’s largely autobiographical Mein Kampf (My Struggle) expired. Written between the years of 1924 and 1926, Mein Kampf was banned by the Allies and was kept from publication using copyright law. As a result, it hasn’t been published since the dictator’s death — and, for many, with good reason.
As Reuters put it, many people see Mein Kampf as “an inflammatory racist diatribe.” However, scholars argue that the text, complete with annotations and explanatory sections, provides a useful tool for students of history and politics.
“We are probably entering a phase in which you can do more with Hitler and texts about him than you did 10 or 20 years ago,” biographer Peter Longerich told Reuters. “In the age of mass media, taboos are constantly broken and texts cannot be locked away.” Indeed, a simple Google search reveals that digital versions of Hitler’s long-banned text are readily available to anyone who wants to read it. It just hasn’t been printed on paper and sold as a traditional book by a major publisher.
But should the two-volume “Nazi bible” really be printed? Some say yes, others say no. The Munich Institute is self-publishing the book to avoid any commercial exploitation of Hitler’s work, given its controversial nature. The Institute’s representatives told Reuters, “The aim… is to present ‘Mein Kampf’ as a salient source document for contemporary history, to describe the context of the genesis of Hitler’s world view.”
The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, seems to have mixed feelings about the publication. Noting that an expired copyright means that the book will be “more widely available,” he agrees that “there is nothing to object to if an academic edition with commentary is available for research and teaching.”
Extending the copyright on Mein Kampf would be very easy to do. We’ve done it before with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, or “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” in 1998 that prevented works created in 1923 and beyond from entering the public domain. But just like alcohol during prohibition, when you keep something “bad” from the public, the bad guys will get it anyway. That’s not to say only people with bad intentions read Mein Kampf, but that the individuals and groups who may use it as an emblem of their movement are probably already doing so.
Mein Kampf has a page on GoodReads, a site dedicated to sharing reader reactions, and someone used the Amazon self-publishing platform CreateSpace to put a printed copy of the text out into the world in August 2014; you can buy it through Barnes & Noble online.
“To find ‘Mein Kampf’ in the windows of bookstores would be… I just can’t imagine it,” said Charlotte Knobloch of the Center for the Israelite Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria. “I hope this will be prevented for going against sedition laws.” But the fact of the matter is the book isn’t banned in Germany, and although the book is full of hate, it isn’t a hate crime itself.
German teachers hope that bringing Mein Kampf officially to light will provide a way to “immunize against political extremism,” as Josef Kraus, head of Germany’s Teacher’s Association stated. “To me, this is an educational assignment to make clear to young people – not 12 and 13-year-olds but 16 to 18-year-olds – that such an atrocious pamphlet can ultimately lead to a global catastrophe.”
Kraus has a point: It’s important to educate young people about the atrocious parts of history, and sometimes the best way to do that is to allow them to read books from those periods. Even better, when organizations like the Munich Institute, which is focused on preserving history and presenting the text as a historical reference, not a modern propaganda piece, control the narrative around it, a document like Mein Kampf can be very valuable.
There are many things to fear in this world, but Hitler’s dated, racist treatise probably isn’t one of them. Yet, we just can’t seem to get over books written decades, or even a century ago, that so directly led to war and global horrors. It’s not as if Mein Kampf is the first book to be banned, however; the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom records attempts to ban books from classrooms and libraries each year. Among the classics people have attempted to ban in the past are titles assigned to school kids year in and year out.
If you feel daring and want to read a banned book that’s not Mein Kampf, here’s a small selection of titles that were banned at one time or another. While not nearly on the same level as Hitler’s diatribe, somebody somewhere saw fit to protest these now-classic examples of literature:
- The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell
- The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
- Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
- The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
- Beloved, by Toni Morrison
- In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
- Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
We should always remember that, as the editors of the 1941 American-printed version of Mein Kampf noted, this book is “a propagandistic essay by a violent partisan.” Although it warps history and tells Hitler’s autobiographical story through a hate-fueled biased lens, the value of studying propaganda from World War II is that it may prevent us from falling into a similar trap in the future.
What do you think of the new printing of Mein Kampf?
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.