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Germans Brace for the Re-Release of ‘Mein Kampf’

Is Hitler’s 90-year-old manifesto too dangerous to be on bookshelves?

(Marcus Fþhrer/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Mein Kampf has been panned as “pathetic” and compared to the Bible. Certainly it was the bestseller of its day, with millions of copy in print. But the sale of Hitler’s 1925 manifesto has been forbidden in Germany since the end of World War II—and now, faced with the expiration of the book’s copyright, the country is bracing for the first re-release in decades.

The book, which is considered so incendiary it is kept in a locked vault in Bavaria’s State Library, will be re-released in a heavily annotated edition by the Institute for Contemporary History in January 2016, Anthony Faiola reports for the Washington Post

In Germany, a work's copyright expires 70 years after an author’s death. After Hitler died, American forces seized his book's publisher, and rights reverted to Bavaria, where Hitler had his official residence. Since 1945, Bavarian authorities have placed careful restrictions on the book’s availability in Germany. Though it is legal to own the book (hundreds of thousands of copies are thought to have survived the war), it’s not legal to reprint it or check it out from a library.

That will all change in January, when the Institute for Contemporary History releases its heavily annotated version. Though in 2014 German justice ministers agreed Mein Kampf should not be published without context and commentary, Germans are far from agreeing on anything related to the controversial book—especially since the new edition “is effectively being financed by German taxpayers,” Faiola notes. Though Bavaria withdrew an initial funding pledge, it hasn’t pulled the Institute for Contemporary History’s general budget, which is being used to fund the book anyway, he says.

So what will happen when the book finally hits German bookstores? Predictions range from “a kind of publishing free-for-all” to a whimper. (The book is notoriously obtuse, and with annotations is expected to run to 2,000 pages.) But given reports of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe and the book’s success in ebook format internationally, critics are warning that the book’s release is bad news:

“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Mein Kampf,’ even with annotations. Can you annotate the Devil? Can you annotate a person like Hitler?” said Levi Salomon, spokesman for the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Anti-Semitism. “This book is outside of human logic.”

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