‘Mein Kampf’: A German rebirth?

| Staff Columnist

In Germany, every author is guaranteed a copyright on any works they publish for 70 years after their death. Thus, the copyright of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” is due to expire in 2015, 70 years after the Nazi leader committed suicide in Berlin at the end of World War II. Until now, the copyright has been held by the Bavarian government, but with the expiration in five short years, an increasing debate has raged within the country over the first German publication since the end of the Second World War.

Edith Raim, a historian at the highly esteemed Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, said that the institute desires to publish a German edition, along with a critical annotated commentary, in 2015. According to her, “We hope to prevent neo-Nazi publications by putting out a commented, scholarly edition before [them], as well as [the fact] that ‘Mein Kampf’ is one of the central texts if you want to explain national socialism, and it hasn’t been available in a commented edition at all in Germany.”

Copies of “Mein Kampf” are easily accessible on the Internet already and are legally published in many countries around the world, including the United States. The Bavarian government has declared that even after 2015, “the dissemination of Nazi ideologies [presumably ‘Mein Kampf’ included] will remain prohibited in Germany and is punishable under the penal code.”

[poll id="33"]

The contents of the book include Hitler’s detailed hatred of the Jewish people, his desire to avenge German defeat at the hands of the French, and his demand of lebensraum, or “more living space,” in the East. The Nazi leader dictated this book to loyal subordinate Rudolf Hess while in Landsberg prison in Bavaria after his failed putsch of 1923. The very first volume was published in 1925, and the second was published the year after. In the end, nearly 12 million copies were distributed throughout Germany until Hitler’s downfall. In fact, “Mein Kampf” was given as wedding presents in Munich and Nuremberg to young couples.

According to Berlin’s Stephan Kramer, the secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, the publication of “Mein Kampf” has divided the Jewish community as well, with Holocaust survivors vehemently opposing it. But he stated that he was personally conflicted because “I have the highest respect for this opinion [of opposition], but on the other hand I’m saying very openly: The copyright is going to be waived anyway. It’s a matter of time before the book is available in shops and libraries.”

The reality is that “Mein Kampf” is already available, as aforementioned, on the Internet and in other countries around the world. With the German copyright expiring in a mere five years, a course of action needs to be planned. Eventually, the book, however despicable and abominable it may be, will be obtainable in Germany. Rather than continuously try to ban it, the German government and the Jewish community should join forces and show what type of book it really is.

One day, no eyewitnesses will remain, and it will be left to us to retell our children and grandchildren the truth and to combat Holocaust denial. We must remain ever vigilant, for as the great British statesman Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Isaac is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at iamon@artsci.wustl.edu.

  • Dan Michon

    Great article.