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Germany’s Controversial New Version of ‘Mein Kampf’ Is Now a Bestseller

Once kept under lock and key, the book is now available in a critical edition

The Institute for Contemporary History's reissued version of Mein Kampf is an anonymous-looking doorstop packed with footnotes and historical context. (Institut für Zeitgeschichte )
smithsonian.com

It’s been called one of the most dangerous books in history, a tome that has stoked hatred ever since it helped Adolf Hitler rise to power. The reputed might of Mein Kampf, or “My Struggle,” is so strong that the book was banned for 70 years in Germany. But last year, a copyright expiration brought Hitler’s manifesto back to German bookshelves—and, as Melissa Eddy reports for The New York Times, the book is now a bestseller.

The version of Mein Kampf now available on Germany is much longer than Hitler’s original. Running over 2,000 pages, it contains 3,000 annotations made by historians in an attempt to put the book into context. That hasn’t dissuaded tens of thousands from buying it, though: As Eddy notes, it has now sold over 85,000 copies and spent 35 weeks on a German bestseller list.

The book’s new publisher tells Eddy that it’s unlikely the book is being bought by right-wing extremist or neo-Nazis. Rather, they state that its new readers appear to be motivated by an interest in history, though they acknowledge that it’s impossible to know just who has purchased the new edition. The critical, annotated edition is now entering its sixth edition, and translation requests have been pouring in from countries around the world.

It’s an unexpected second chapter for a book Germans once consigned to the trash bin of history. Once required reading during the Nazi regime—the state gifted a copy to every newly married couple and it made Hitler a multimillionaire—the book was outlawed at the end of World War II. Allies seized the book’s publisher and gave the copyright for the book to the state of Bavaria, where Hitler lived. As SmartNews reported before the book’s republication, there were so many copies of the book in Germany that it was legal to own it. However, purchasing or checking the book out from a library was banned.

In 2016, though, the copyright for the book that had spent 70 years in the “poison cabinet” of the Bavarian State Library expired and the book was reissued. The reissue was hotly debated, especially since it was funded by German taxpayers. But the Institute for Contemporary History, which prepared and published the reissue, argued that it was worth republishing.

For many Germans, the reissue is the first time they’ll ever read the book. But anyone who expects to find a cogent argument within is bound to be surprised: The book has long been panned by critics for its rambling, ungainly prose. The book’s new bestseller status might be alarming to those who fear that its content could fuel white supremacists—but maybe surrounding Hitler’s words with a frenzy of footnotes is an even better way to defang them than a country-wide ban.

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