In 1925 and ’26, Adolf Hitler published (in two parts, no less) an autobiography of sorts. While the title translates as “My Struggle,” the real substance behind the work has more to do with Hitler’s political ideology than anything else. His central thesis being “the Jewish peril,” Hitler believed in a Jewish conspiracy to expand global leadership.
While the question of publication has already been settled with the expiration of the current copyright held by the state of Bavaria, yet problems arise concerning its offering in Germany.
“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” The Bavarian Library historian Florian Sepp told a Washington Post reporter.
“Levi Salomon speaking for the Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism based in Berlin, opposes republication of Mein Kampf: ‘This book is outside of human logic.’ ”
Anticipating the copyright lapse, Scholars and historians at the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich spent three years preparing a 2,000-page, annotated edition. While the Institute believes that this new edition will provide important historical context to the book, others argue that “a scholarly edition would legitimize the rantings of a sociopath who led the country down the path of evil,” The New York Times writes (Jan. 8).
At a press conference, the Institute’s director, Andreas Wirsching said, “Nevertheless, there is widespread agreement on a decisive point. It would be completely irresponsible to allow this jumble of inhumanity to be released into the public domain without commentary, without countering it through critical references that put the text and its author in their place.”
“Some historians, and education experts welcomed the new Mein Kampf edition as part of modern Germany’s pledge to ‘never forget, never repeat’ the atrocities committed under Hitler, through education and critical examination.”
However, there are concerns regarding the release considering the current issues facing Germany and much of Europe, The Times points out. “…voters are increasingly turning to far-right and other populist parties after years of economic stagnation, dissatisfaction with mainstream parties and questions about national identity in the face of open borders for much of the Continent and an influx of migrants from outside it. Some far-right parties have appropriated Nazi imagery and texts.
“The republication, even with critical annotations, of a work that advocated an Aryan ‘master race’ comes as Germany finds itself at a crossroads after one million migrants, many fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan, crossed its borders over the past year. Chancellor Angela Merkel has found herself struggling to maintain popular support for her migrant policy amid concerns about the social and economic costs of accepting the new arrivals, as well as over religious extremism and national security.
“Jewish groups in Germany have been split over the publication,” the Times writes. “The Central Council of Jews in Germany, which has long warned against further publication of the original work, welcomed the critical edition on Friday as an effort to counter anti-Semitism by placing Hitler’s ideas in historical context. But the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany called for an absolute ban on any new editions.
“ ‘For many survivors, a new publication is a fresh slap in the face that damages Germany’s international reputation,’ said Rüdiger Mahlo, the German representative of the claims conference. ‘Such irrational racist slogans should not be spread anywhere, least of all in Germany.’
Ian Kershaw, a British historian who has written about Hitler, noted the importance of finally having an annotated version of the work for German and historical studies…”
Regarding the potential exploitation that may come from the release, Kershaw says, “The countries that abuse Mein Kampf will continue to do so. I don’t think this edition will discourage or prevent that.”
While the question raised in the title has been settled – the book is now available to Germans – from an ethical perspective on this issue, I side with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”