An annotated edition of Mein Kampf, the first version of Adolf Hitler's notorious manifesto to be published in Germany since the end of the Second World War, went on sale Friday — a volume that many hope will help demystify the book and debunk the Nazi leader's writing.
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The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History has worked for several years on the plain-covered volume, officially titled Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition. It launched the book days after the copyright of the German-language original expired at the end of 2015 — 70 years after Hitler's death.
Over the years, Bavaria's state finance ministry had used its copyright on the book to prevent the publication of new editions. The book wasn't actually banned in Germany, though, and could be found online, in secondhand bookshops and in libraries.
The new edition "sets out as far as possible Hitler's sources, which were deeply rooted in the German racist tradition of the late 19th century," said the Munich institute's director, Andreas Wirsching. "This edition exposes the false information spread by Hitler, his downright lies and his many half-truths, which aimed at a pure propaganda effect."
'Censorship is almost always pointless in the long term in a free society, and only contributes to creating a negative myth, making a forbidden text more mysterious and awakening an inevitable fascination with the inaccessible - Ian Kershaw, Hitler biographer
"At a time when the well-known formula of far-right xenophobia are threatening to become ... socially acceptable again in Europe, it is necessary to research and critically present the appalling driving forces of National Socialism and its deadly racism," Wirsching said.
Hitler wrote Mein Kampf — "My Struggle" — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The rambling tome set out Hitler's ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology, which would culminate in the Holocaust and a war of conquest in eastern Europe.
Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933, and it was published after the war in several other countries.
'Shouldn't pretend the book doesn't exist'
German authorities have made clear that they won't tolerate any new editions without commentary, though none is known to be in the works, with incitement laws likely to be used against any such publications. They are, however, broadly supportive of the annotated edition.
"I think one shouldn't pretend the book doesn't exist," Education Minister Johanna Wanka told n-tv television. "Such taboos can sometimes be counterproductive. It's important that people who want to debunk this book have the appropriate material."
Ian Kershaw, a Briton who is a leading biographer of Hitler, joined Friday's book presentation and said it was "high time for a rigorously academic edition of Mein Kampf to be made available.
"For years, I have considered the lifting of the ban on publication long overdue," Kershaw said. "Censorship is almost always pointless in the long term in a free society, and only contributes to creating a negative myth, making a forbidden text more mysterious and awakening an inevitable fascination with the inaccessible."
Germany's main Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews, said it has no objections to the critical edition but strongly supports ongoing efforts to prevent any new Mein Kampf without annotations. Its president, Josef Schuster, said he hopes the critical edition will "contribute to debunking Hitler's inhuman ideology and counteracting anti-Semitism."
Jewish opinion has been divided, however. One of Schuster's predecessors, Charlotte Knobloch, has said she worries the new edition will simply awaken interest in the original, not the commentary.
The bulky new edition is priced at 59 euros ($90 Cdn). But Wirsching cautioned that it's important to avoid reducing the Nazi regime to Hitler — "that would be falling back to the 1950s."