A critical version of “Mein Kampf”, Adolf Hitler’s infamous autobiography, has spent two thirds of 2016 among Germany’s best-seller list.
For fear, shame, or anger, it’s a book that has been banned in Germany for seven decades now. The state of Bavaria has held the copyright to the work since the end of the war up to the 31st of December 2015, successfully blocking any effort to republish the book. But as soon as the calendar showed 2016, a critical and annotated edition of the book was published by the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich — the result of three years’ worth of highly-controverted work.
“Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition” was a huge success, selling some 85,000 copies and ranking on the “Der Spiegel” best-seller list for 35 weeks straight according to the New York Times reports. The Institute considers its success as proof that the historians’ work to annotate, criticize, and contextualize the original reviled work was worth it.
Some argued that the book, which lays down the dictator’s beliefs regarding the Aryan master race, would fuel the rise of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. On the other hand, some argued that it’s a piece of history — a book that offers important insight into one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. Plus, people were already reading the book.
“Despite all the debates about republication, Hitler’s book has long been accessible in a variety of ways: on the shelves of used book shops, in legally printed English translations or a mouse click away on the Internet – ‘Mein Kampf’ is out there and every year manages to find new readers, agitators and commercial profiteers,” the publisher wrote in a statement.
“The task of an annotated critical edition is to render the debate objective and to put forward a serious alternative, a counter-text to the uncritical and unfiltered dissemination of Hitler’s propaganda, lies, half-truths and vicious tirades.”
The original version of the book was written in two volumes between 1924 and 1926. Hitler laid down most of the first volume in prison after his failed coup attempt in 1923. The rest of the book focuses on his and the National Socialist (Nazi) party’s belief, penned at his mountain retreat. After he rose to power in 1933, Mein Kampf’s popularity soared. It had been translated into 18 languages and sold some 12 million copies by the end of 1945.
The annotated version takes a critical look at the book. Among other things, it explores Hitler’s motives behind writing the book, the social support his ideas had among his contemporaries. But above all, it looks at how to combat and disarm the caustic ideology contained in its pages, according to a statement from the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.