BERLIN — Those facing powerful enemies should always seek powerful allies. That, in a nutshell, is the mission facing Magnus Brechtken, a Munich man who took on the controversial task of re-releasing Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Brechtken is vice-president of the city’s renowned Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ). In 2012, the Free State of Bavaria, which holds the copyright on Mein Kampf until Dec. 31 2015, commissioned the IfZ to edit the infamous book in a academically critical fashion. A year and a half later, under orders of the minister-president of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer (CSU), support for the project was withdrawn. The minister of justice in Munich, Winfried Bausback, has also come out against the undertaking.
Brechtken and the IfZ are determined, nevertheless, to see the job through. Now they’ve gone so far as to present details of the re-release to the general public, whose support Brechtken is hoping to court.
The eight editors involved in the nearly completed project say they are determined to delivering scientifically sound work. This new edition will have more than 2,000 pages, as opposed to Hitler’s original 800, and will be split into two lengthy volumes.
Each page will contain the original first and second edition text (1925-1926) in one column and text variations that evolved over the years in a second column. To achieve this, the team compared six of the more than 1,000 German editions published until 1944 word for word. Often there were only minimal discrepancies from the original due to different printing processes. For a while, during World War II, up to 16 printing houses were producing Mein Kampf at the same time. Not really surprising given a total circulation of 12.4 million, with two thirds of that produced after 1939.
Photo: Institut für Zeitgeschichte
The new edition will also contain extensive annotations to the left and beneath the original text. Since the inception of this project, the team of editors, under the leadership of Christian Hartmann, has managed to accumulate over 5,000 annotations regarding single sentences found in Mein Kampf. They are sometimes shorter but more often than not considerably longer than the original section of the book to which they refer.
Mein Kampf is a hodgepodge collection of prejudices, misunderstandings and pure hatred. Yet it was quite effective at the time. To understand the effect of this hate campaign, Hartmann and his team are determined to analyse it under the light of its intellectual background. They also demonstrate how Hitler plagiarized other publications and contradicts himself.
With its thousands of annotations, the new edition promises to be a very difficult read. And yet it’s sure to get noticed. Mein Kampf is, after all, one of the most famous book titles of all times. And because it is shrouded in mystery as a forbidden book, it has a special appeal to anti-Semites, right-wing extremists and other riff-raff who are not partial to democracy.
The IfZ has made it its mission to demonstrate just how awfully wrong and redundant Mein Kampf is and always has been. In that way the Institute hopes to destroy any lingering influence the book might have. The edition is also supposed to provide solid basis for other authors, academics or journalists who want to tackle Hitler’s work.
How successful Brechtken and his colleagues are with this ambitious project remains to be seen, especially since distribution is likely to be limited. The books are also expected to be expensive (up to 160 euros for both volumes) due to the high print and binding quality that will be needed so that they can be incorporated into university librarys.
Plans are in place to eventually make an Internet edition available one year after publication. There has also been talk about possible cooperation with the Federal Central Office for Political Education.
The book is to be published on Jan. 4, 2016, i.e. the first working day following the expiration of its current copyright. Only then will we see how the Free State of Bavaria reacts and whether public persecutors will indeed be sent forth.