With the copyright set to expire at the end of the year, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf will be republished in Germany for the first time since World War II, reports The Washington Post. The new edition, at 2,000 pages with commentary and annotations, is being produced by the Institute of Contemporary History.
Hitler’s original publishing house was captured by the Americans, and the copyright on his manifesto reverted to the German state of Bavaria, which forbade its publication in Germany since the end of the war. It is also illegal in Germany to check copies out of the library, though it is not illegal to own.
According to the Smithsonian, hundreds of thousands of copies survived the war and can be bought in other countries around the world, as well as easily downloaded from the Internet.
Bavaria’s copyright expires in December, however, and the Institute of Contemporary History has been busily preparing its annotated version for publication in 2016. In 2014, Germany’s justice ministers determined it could not be published without annotation.
Many are displeased with the publication, however, even as it is.
“I am absolutely against the publication of Mein Kampf, even with annotations,” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “Can you annotate the Devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler? This book is outside of human logic.”
“This book is most evil; it is the worst anti-Semitic pamphlet and a guidebook for the Holocaust,” said Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Munich Jewish community. “It is a Pandora’s box that, once opened again, cannot be closed.”
The timing of the publication is also unfortunate, coming as it does during a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. A German Jewish leader recently advised members of the community to avoid wearing a kippa, or skullcap, in Islamic neighborhoods, out of fear for their safety.
Mein Kampf was written by Hitler while he sat in a Bavarian jail in 1923. At 700 pages, it was originally published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926. The book outlines Hitler’s racist views on the world, laying the groundwork for the Holocaust.
Some are also troubled by the fact that the project is being funded, albeit indirectly, by the German government. Bavaria originally promised $575,000 towards the effort, but backed out following the governor’s visit to Israel in 2012. The Institute opted to pay for the project out of its general operating budget, also provided by the state, and was permitted to keep the grant money for other uses.
The Institute defends its decision to republish the work with its own commentary.
“I understand some immediately feel uncomfortable when a book that played such a dramatic role is made available again to the public,” said Magnus Brechtken, the Institute’s deputy director. “On the other hand, I think that this is also a useful way of communicating historical education and enlightenment — a publication with the appropriate comments, exactly to prevent these traumatic events from ever happening again.”
While critics, Jewish groups and Holocaust survivors among them, decry the publication, some argue that it will lift the mystique surrounding the book, downplaying its importance. As Peter Ross Range wrote in The New York Times, “The inoculation of a younger generation against the Nazi bacillus is better served by open confrontation with Hitler’s words than by keeping his reviled tract in the shadows of illegality.”