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Mein Kampf: Hitler's rant goes on sale in Germany

London: For 70 years, the reprinting of Adolf Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was prohibited in Germany because of fears that it could be used as right-wing propaganda. On Friday, however, the book hit German bookshelves again.

But many stores are moving cautiously. The BBC reported that one of Berlin's largest bookstores had ordered only a single copy and was not advertising it. Other retailers are also trying to avoid any suggestion that they are hoping to make money off "the Devil", as Hitler was dubbed in criticism that emerged before the book was republished.

A copy of Hitler, Mein Kampf - A critical edition stands in a bookshop in Munich, Germany, on Friday.
A copy of Hitler, Mein Kampf - A critical edition stands in a bookshop in Munich, Germany, on Friday. Photo: AP

The manifesto is regarded as the foundation of Hitler's brutal ideology and remains controversial today. Originally released in 1925, nearly 10 years before Hitler came to power, the book laid out a violent vision that would lead to World War II and the Holocaust.

"This book is too dangerous for the general public," library historian Florian Sepp told The Post's Berlin bureau chief  Anthony Faiola last year, reflecting a sentiment echoed in Germany on Friday.

Head of the editing team Christian Hartmann with a copy of the new critical edition of Mein Kampf at the Institut fuer ...
Head of the editing team Christian Hartmann with a copy of the new critical edition of Mein Kampf at the Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History) on Friday. Photo: Getty Images

Mein Kampf has long been available in other countries, but German officials had kept it out of the nation. Copies were stored in a secured area of Bavaria's State Library in southern Germany, and anyone wanting access had to submit a formal request.

Last month, however, the German copyright for Mein Kampf, which was held by the state of Bavaria, expired. Although many still think that the wide accessibility of the book could be hazardous in modern-day Germany, others say that the prohibition against reissuing the book could make it even more mysterious and interesting for readers.

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The book that is now on sale is not Hitler's original but rather a heavily annotated 2000-page edition titled Hitler, Mein Kampf –- A critical edition that includes thousands of remarks and comments by experts. By publishing the anti-Semitic and hatred-inciting rant, historians hope to expose Hitler's ideology.

On Friday, German Education Minister Johanna Wanka told German news channel n-tv that she preferred the publication of such an annotated and widely available edition over the situation the country had recently faced. Hundreds of thousands of old editions of Mein Kampf continued to circulate after World War II because they were never banned. "The book was easily accessible over the internet in recent years. That is why it is crucial to have an annotated version – an unmasking of what can be found in Mein Kampf.

Historic copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf are displayed during the book launch of a new critical edition at the ...
Historic copies of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf are displayed during the book launch of a new critical edition at the Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte in Munich, Germany on Friday. Photo: Getty Images

"I think one has to try not to hush up this book. Such taboos often have the opposite effect of what they aim for," she said.

Ms Wanka also said the book could be discussed in schools in the future. Although the book may not be a mandatory read, she urged teachers to use the book to explain how Hitler never made a secret of his destructive visions.

Together the two volumes of the new edition weigh 4.5 kilograms.
Together the two volumes of the new edition weigh 4.5 kilograms. Photo: Getty Images

The publication nevertheless comes at a sensitive time. 

Elsewhere in Europe, 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.

Tensions were brought to the surface this week after reports that women were sexually assaulted and robbed in Cologne on New Year's Eve by groups of men described as having "a North African or Arabic" appearance. 

Some critics fear that the Nazi-era manifesto of hate could be used to promote hatred against Muslims and other foreigners today.

Despite the new edition's heft – the two volumes together weigh more than 4.5 kilograms – and an announced price of €59 ($92), sales have already far exceeded expectations. The Institute of Contemporary History had to increase its initial run of 4000 copies after receiving about 15,000 pre-orders before Friday's release, the institute's director Andreas Wirsching​ said.

Even so, the book sold out within hours on Amazon's German site, where it was listed as "not available, due to limited publication".

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, but cautioned against expecting too much from the new edition, calling the interest surrounding its publication a "nine-day wonder", he said it would not have a lasting impact on the myth surrounding the original in many parts of the world.

Washington Post, New York Times

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