‘Mein Kampf’, Entering the Public Domain, Must be Put in its Place
The publishing world is plagued with simple-minded books. Toe-curling examples include Kardashian Konfidential by Kim Kardashian, Learning To Fly by Victoria Beckham and the autobiographical oeuvre of Sharon Osbourne. All would benefit from concise editor’s notes at the start of each chapter to help the poor reader navigate the dross.
But of all the rambling, incoherent nonsense ever committed to paper, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is the book in most need of explanation. And, following a historic conference of German government ministers this summer, that’s precisely what it’s about to get.
Written by the Nazi dictator during his stretch in the slammer in 1924, this guidebook for the misguided outlines the author’s warped worldview and served as the blueprint for Auschwitz.
Adolf was hardly God’s gift to grammar. His psychotic prose make Kardashian read like Kipling. But, credit where it’s due, he certainly had a way of putting his feelings on paper.
According to Adolf the Jews are (deep breath…) “Parasites, liars, dirty, crafty, sly, wily, clever (oh, suddenly a compliment?!), spongers, middlemen, maggots, blood suckers, monsters…”
You get the gist.
Reading it cover to cover was my struggle, so I don’t recommend settling down with a nice cup of tea and wading through all 720 pages. Just know that, in terms of tone and tenor, it’s a sort of shouty forerunner to REM’s ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It‘. Without the rhymes.
The book has been a post-war best-seller across the Muslim world, where it jostles with Protocols of the Elders of Zion for shelf space. It’s widely distributed in Syria, Lebanon and by the Palestinian Authority. It’s also a best-seller in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to have carried a copy around with him as a child.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un reportedly gives the book to his top officials for them to study its leadership skills.
You’d expect Adolf’s unique brand of evil insanity to have fans in places where Philip Roth struggles to find an audience, but it also has a morbid hold on western readers.
A recent surge in e-book sales saw it top Amazon’s Propaganda & Political Psychology chart and even grab a spot in iTunes’ Politics & Current Events list. The Kindle edition will only set you back $3.56, while a free e-book version has been downloaded more than 100,000 times from archive.org. In March, two signed copies sold for nearly $65,000 in a Los Angeles auction.
It is, however, outlawed in the author’s birthplace of Austria and adopted state Germany, where reprints have been banned since 1945.
This all changes next year when German copyright law sees the book freely enter the public domain 70 years after the author’s death.
To avoid a Führer free-for-all, with neo-Nazis exploiting its distribution, the German government plans to extend its ban in favor of publishing an academically critical version edited by the country’s Institute for Contemporary History.
This scholarly edition, with commentary and analysis, is to be distributed in schools and colleges, to help transform a murderous manifesto into a symbol of understanding. Crucially, the county’s Central Council of Jews backs the plan.
According to Bavaria’s Interior Minister Winfried Bausback: “The entire democratic world is watching Germany on this one.”
Of course, freedom of expression must be fiercely protected, no matter how monstrous the message. So an indefinite ban on the original text will rightly rile libertarians and reignite a debate on state censorship stretching back 700 years to the publication of The Canterbury Tales.
But there are always exceptions. And this is one.
Left to its own devices, the book is a handy how-to guide for haters. An instruction manual for galvanizing paranoia and demonizing the other. Put in its rightful place, it is a warning from history; a tool to empower future generations to pick apart a misanthropy that led to mankind’s darkest hour.
That said, the Institute for Contemporary History will have its work cut out making the new Mein Kampf seem any less disoriented than the original. So, if you’re after a more erudite book for the beach, I really can’t speak highly enough of Jason Priestley: A Memoir.
The author is editor of the Jewish News and jewishnews.co.uk in London and a columnist for independent.co.uk. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.