Why is Germany republishing Hitler’s Mein Kampf?

Credit: Diego Cavichiolli Carbone/Flickr.

For the first time since the end of World War II, a new annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf will go on limited sale in Germany.

This edition from the The Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) offers 3,500 scholarly annotations. It seeks to challenge the ‘irresponsible’ earlier editions found in second-hand bookstores. Jewish groups are not with their concerns.

German justice ministers, however, have pledged to limit public access to stem neo-Nazi sentiment. Growing anxieties over the refugee crisis have provided extra succour to the populist far-right. Some expressed their far-right views to an actor dressed as Hitler. Neo-Nazis monopolise arson attacks against proposed refugee centres across Germany. At a Pegia rally in October, a guest speaker joked about putting Muslims in concentration camps. Germany recorded 1,596 antisemitic hate crimes last year. A vast majority of perpetrators expressed ‘right-wing’ views.

Hitler dictated Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to Rudolf Hess in Lansburg prison, where both resided after the failed beer-hall putsch of 1923. Hitler’s chauffeur, Emil Maurice, had started the ghostwriting process, but his writing skills proved as poor as Hitler’s.

Mein Kampf outlined his racist worldview and political outlook. Autobiographical elements contained many inaccuracies to help create a positive image of himself.

Hitler proved an avid reader of Henry Ford’s antisemitic book ‘The International Jew‘. He had kept a life-size portrait of Ford above his desk before becoming German Chancellor in 1933. In December 1931, Hitler responded “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration“.

Henry Ford would later renounce his antisemitic writings, yet continued to admire the Nazi state. Shortly after after the annexation of Austria in 1938, Ford received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, Nazi Germany’s highest award for foreigners.

Hitler’s unfettered antisemitism is not the sole product of Ford’s writing. He also admired his assembly line modernisation of car production. Both men had also admired the notorious antisemitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Alfred Rosenberg had introduced Hitler to it in the early 1920s. Extracts of the text had appeared in Ford’s Dearborn Independent newspaper in 1920.

It became a powerful propaganda tool for the Nazi party. Between 1919 and 1939, they had published at least 23 editions of the text. The Times newspaper first exposed it as an antisemitic plagiarism in 1921. In spite of renewed debunking, its poisonous legacy endures.

Both men were products of an era of American and European history that normalised antisemitism. As Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History at New York University noted:

Anti-Semitism came from the top down from elite sources, and from the bottom up from populist sources. It came from the right, and the left. Small towns were no more hotbeds of anti-Semitism than large cities. It could be pretty much anyplace.”

After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, Allied forces handed the copyright of Mein Kampf over to the state of Bavaria. Unlike the swastika and other Nazi iconography, the book was never banned.

Under German law, copyright lasts for 70 years. From January next year publishers will have free access to the text. It will cost 59 euros and contains 1,948 pages.