Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf at centre of fresh controversy
As copyright expires, debate rages over whether book should be studied or buried
Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is one of the biggest bestsellers of all time, going through more than 1,000 editions and selling more than 12 million copies between its original publication in 1924 and 1945.
It still sells strongly long after its creator’s death and it remains in the public eye as it continues to generate news coverage and commentary.
And nearly three-quarters of a century after the author took his own life, it’s still causing legal and political uproar in Germany.
Immediately after the war the Free State of Bavaria scrambled to seize all of Hitler’s assets.
Included on this list were all of his copyrights, including the one to his infamous biography-cum-manifesto Mein Kampf.
Since Bavaria controlled copyright on the book, it controlled publication. It has allowed virtually no legal versions of the Hitler’s screed to be produced in Germany since the end of the war.
But in Germany, copyright disappears at the end of the 70th anniversary year of the author’s death. Hitler’s suicide in his Berlin bunker in the spring of 1945 meant Bavaria loses control of Mein Kampf at midnight of December 31, 2015.
At the beginning of 2012 the interests of the Free State of Bavaria and Germany’s leading research centre on the Nazi movement seemed to converge.
The Institute of Contemporary Studies in Munich has since the 1940s overseen analysis and critical commentary on most of Hitler’s written and spoken words. But Bavaria’s effective ban on the most famous work of all, Mein Kampf, kept it away from this work.
However, with the prospect of copyright ending, the Institute launched work on the world’s first critical edition of Mein Kampf in 2010.
Two years later, Bavarian politicians and government officials decided getting a critical edition of Mein Kampf to market at the same time as an anticipated flood of uncritical Neo-Nazi editions was a good thing. They offered the Institute a contribution of 500,000 euros, or nearly $750,000 Canadian, to speed the work - an offer which was accepted.
All went well with the project until December 2013, when the Bavarian Free State’s political leader, Minister-President Horst Seehofer, had a change of heart. Seehofer, without warning, cancelled funding for the project.
It soon became clear in Bavaria, though, that Minister-Seehofer had over-reached in his action.
His critics argued that continuation of harsh censorship of Mein Kampf was unseemly in a modern, democratic Germany. And attacks on and threats of sanctions against some of the state’s most respected scholars was called unthinkable.
After more than a month of unremitting political pressure, a face-saving compromise was announced by the Seehofer administration.
In January 2014, the 500,000 euros originally given by the State of Bavaria for the project was reallocated to other projects run by the Institute of Contemporary Studies. That allowed the organization to channel other money into the new edition of Mein Kampf.
The new critical edition of Mein Kampf is scheduled to appear the moment copyright expires on New Year’s Day, 2016.
One of the world’s foremost experts on Hitler’s writings, Professor Neil Gregor of the United Kingdom’s University of Southampton, is the author of the newly reissued book How To Read Hitler, expresses mixed feelings about the uproar....
[Sean Prpick is a journalist and freelance writer based in Regina. His audio documentary for CBC radio's Ideas, The Struggle Over Mein Kampf - takes an in-depth look at what's considered one of the most dangerous books in history.]
[Listen to Sean Prpicks full audio documentary on CBC radio's Ideas, The Struggle Over Mein Kampf.]