Despite the ban by law of publishing any works that could incite racial hatred in Germany, one right-wing publisher intends to release the original version of Adolph Hitler’s anti-Semitic manifesto Mein Kampf without any annotations.
The proposal has been met with harsh criticism, and even an investigation from law enforcement. Some believe, however, that it is time for Germany to more thoroughly process the past.
The annotated version of Mein Kampf released in bookstores this past January
With criticism, an original text of Mein Kampf was returned to German bookstores in January, but with around 3,700 comments from expert historians, allowing readers to process the work into context. It sold out within weeks.
This publication was possible because the book’s copyright had expired, 70 years after Hitler’s death. As well, the annotations by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History allowed for the legality of its release.
The decision for publishing even the annotated version was not without serious contemplation, however. As the copyright was reaching expiration, the Bavarian government was unsure of the correct direction to take: (1) follow a more liberal approach, which would allow the book to be published, trusting civil society to engage with the book; (2) ban the book outright (such as in Austria).
With their decision to allow the book to be published, the government identified the potential dangers if the book was a best seller. It seems their fears have come to fruition, and the book was on the bestseller list for several weeks.
Right-wing publisher Schelm may have different motivations
The new edition that is planning to be published by right-wing publisher Schelm this summer does not quite fall into the same category as the annotated version. It will be in its original form, without an annotated context.
Schelm’s reseasoning behind the release is to serve as a source of public education, help to defend against unconstitutional efforts and provide historical documentation for the academic world. They are playing up its edition as an academic service, and will include a commentary as foreword.
Critics claim this reasoning is not nearly sufficient to be considered research material. Additionally, the publisher’s web domain is “volkstod.com”, translating to “death of the people” and publishes only books that cater to the ideology of the right wing.
Potential legal ramifications for publication
The announcement was brought to light through an in-store advertisement in a bookstore just north of Nuremberg. Investigators aren’t so convinced. “The bookseller announced that she planned to sell the original version, and had advertised the book with a picture of Hitler,” said Christopher Rosenbuch, a spokesman for the local prosecutor according to DW. In response, the prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation under grounds that the republishing of the original manifesto is illegal under German sedition laws. In fact, even just advertising the book itself can lead to possible charges.
Still, many feel a ban is not the answer
Despite its highly controversial content, there is no explicit ban on the book’s publication since it entered the public domain. Some feel that a ban will not be sufficiently effective at deterring right-wing extremism.
Firstly, the text of Mein Kampf has been easily accessible online for Neo-Nazis and sympathizers and therefore, they are likely unaffected by the legality of publication.
Horst Pöttker, a senior professor at the University of Hamburg says the reaction in Germany shows that Germans don’t know how to deal with the Nazi past.
“In Germany we fear a wave of right-wing extremism [if the book is published], but that’s not the case in other countries. Even in Israel, ‘Mein Kampf’ is sold in its original version,” says Pöttker.
“There’s an urgent need as a society to finally find a way to properly process this past, culturally and publicly.”