Who’s Afraid of Mein Kampf?

In the United States, Mein Kampf has never been prohibited, though some Jewish organizations opposed the sale of the book in 1933, at a time when populist demagogues were spreading their vitriolic anti-Semitism. Mein Kampf was not even banned when the United States went to war against Nazi Germany. In fact, the book’s U.S. publisher, Houghton Mifflin, urged Americans to study Mein Kampf as part of their patriotic responsibilities, and advertised it in The New York Times Book Review in 1944.

U.S. agencies analyzed the book to understand what made Hitler tick and how to best reform German society after the war. Members of the American public, too, tried to better understand the nature of the enemy by perusing Mein Kampf. In early 1939, just months before war broke out in Europe, an unabridged, critical, annotated English edition appeared in American bookshops. Libraries acquired multiple copies of Mein Kampf to feed the demand, and GIs slogged through it on military bases. Its availability did nothing to change American public opinion in favor of Nazi Germany.

However, in postwar Germany, the Allies, including the United States, took a hard line on Mein Kampf. They banned the book and made its dissemination a criminal offense. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Soviet, British, and American leaders had pledged “to destroy German militarism and Nazism and to ensure that Germany will never again be able to disturb the peace of the world.” To this end, Allied occupation forces dissolved and prohibited the Nazi Party and affiliated organizations and revoked Nazi laws. They also ordered the removal of all Nazi and militarist propaganda from German public life.

As part of this policy, American authorities in Germany pulped tons of Nazi literature, including Mein Kampf, to print new textbooks, newspapers, and other materials. In October 1945, American military officials staged an impressive ceremony before newsreel cameras in which the lead type used to print Mein Kampf was melted down to produce page plates for the first postwar German newspaper in the U.S. zone.

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