The academics leading the project to publish the first edition of Mein Kampf in German since the end of the Second World War have argued that their version will be an “antidote” to the hate-filled original.
Christian Hartmann, one of four historians who worked full-time for three years to create a fully annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto for publication on January 8, said that the book would be the “anti-Mein Kampf”.
On December 31, the copyright on the book, held by the Bavarian finance ministry since 1945, expired. In preparation, the state of Bavaria commissioned the Munich-based Institut für Zeitgeschichte (IfZ) to create a version that rebuts and dissects the original.
IfZ director Andreas Wirsching explained in an address to the Foreign Correspondents Society in Berlin: “It would be irresponsible to allow Hitler’s book, which from 2016 will be in the public domain, to circulate uncommented through the German media.
“Our critical edition confronts Hitler’s lies through counter-statement and in footnotes. It destroys the myth around the book by exposing the fatal results of Hitler’s racist propaganda, for example in the notorious Nuremberg Laws.”
Both Mr Wirsching and Mr Hartmann agree that the new edition is necessary “as an antidote” given the growing popularity of the far-right in Germany.
Hitler wrote Mein Kampf as a heroic epic for his followers after his failed coup in 1923. In it he describes his – partly faked – background as a soldier and revolutionary, and urges a war against the enemies of the “superior” Germans – the Marxists and the Jews, whom he describes as “the calamity of the world”.
Until its publication was outlawed in 1945, the book sold 12 million copies worldwide.
Mr Wirsching said Germany intended to maintain its ban on publication of the original, adding that: “The German democracy is stable enough to accept our critical edition.”
Yad Vashem has expressed support for the new edition, said Mr Wirsching, but added that some Holocaust survivors reject it “because Mein Kampf is a symbol and it will be published in Germany, the country of the perpetrators”.
He stressed, however, that the book was available on the internet and in second-hand bookshops anyway, “so we want to confront it as intensively as possible, which is what the Shoah victims would have wished”.
In 2012, German historians discussed the plan to create the annotated edition with representatives of Jewish organisations, and most Jewish and Israeli historians backed the project.
Some 250 copies have been ordered; the IfZ said that any profits would be donated to appropriate charities.
Mr Wirsching said he welcomed translations and added that the IfZ plans to produce an online edition for 2017.