MUNICH — Old copies of the offending tome are kept in a secure “poison cabinet,” a literary danger zone in the dark recesses of the vast Bavarian State Library. A team of experts vets every request to see one, keeping the toxic text away from the prying eyes of the idly curious or those who might seek to exalt it.
“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” library historian Florian Sepp warned as he carefully laid a first edition of Mein Kampf — Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto of hate — on a table in a restricted reading room.
Nevertheless, the book that once served as a kind of Nazi bible and was banned from domestic reprints since the end of the Second World War will soon be returning to German bookstores from the Alps to the Baltic Sea.
The prohibition on reissue for years was upheld by the state of Bavaria, which owns the German copyright and legally blocked attempts to duplicate it. But those rights expire in December, and the first new print run here since Hitler’s death is due out early next year. The new edition is a heavily annotated volume in its original German that is stirring an impassioned debate over history, anti-Semitism and the latent power of the written word.
The book’s reissue, to the chagrin of critics, is effectively being financed by German taxpayers, who fund the historical society that is producing and publishing the new edition. Rather than a how-to guidebook for the aspiring Fascist, the new reprint, the group said this month, will instead be a vital academic tool, a 2,000-page volume packed with more criticisms and analysis than the original text.
Still, opponents are aghast, in part because the book is coming out at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and as the English and other foreign-language versions of Mein Kampf — unhindered by the German copyrights — are in the midst of a global renaissance.
Regardless of the academic context provided by the new volume, critics say the new German edition will ultimately allow Hitler’s voice to rise from beyond the grave.
“I am absolutely against the publication of Mein Kampf, even with annotations. Can you annotate the devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “This book is outside of human logic.”
Not surprisingly, the new edition has become a political hot potato, illustrating the always-awkward question of how modern Germany should deal with its past. Initially, Bavaria, for instance, had pledged $575,000 to directly support publication of the new edition for historical purposes. But it backed out after the Bavarian governor’s 2012 visit to Israel, where he heard withering criticism of the proposal from Holocaust survivors.
That left the state-funded organization putting out the new edition — the Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History — in a bind. Since the late 1940s, the institute has analyzed the rise and aftermath of the Nazis, putting out annotated texts such as Hitler’s speeches. The single most important work it has not yet published in annotated form is, in fact, Mein Kampf. Since 2012, it has had a team of academics labouring on the new edition in preparation of the copyright’s expiry.
Yet vocal opposition appears to be growing. Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Jewish Community in Munich, said she had not vigorously opposed it when the project first surfaced. But her position, she said, hardened after hearing from outraged Holocaust survivors.
“This book is most evil; it is a worse anti-Semitic pamphlet and a guidebook for the Holocaust,” she said “It is a Pandora’s box that, once opened again, cannot be closed.”
— The Washington Post