Antisemitism Experts: Popularity in Germany of New Annotated Version of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Doesn’t Need to Be Cause for Alarm
The fact that a new annotated version of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf has become a best-seller in Germany does not need to be cause for alarm, antisemitism experts told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
“It’s more than understandable that sales of Mein Kampf make people nervous,” Ben Cohen, author of Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism, said. “But we also need to grasp that people read that vile book for different reasons. For historians, for scholars of antisemitism, for those researching totalitarianism, it’s a key text in terms of establishing that Hitler’s war against the Jews was the foundation stone of the Third Reich.”
“Of course, there are others for whom Mein Kampf, with its pornographic antisemitism, is a source of inspiration — however, the editions they read are not annotated by anti-Nazi German historians, but the neo-Nazi versions widely available on the internet,” Cohen continued. “In that sense, the far greater challenge is the impact Mein Kampf has when it’s read not in German, but in Arabic and Turkish, where it helps to fuel an already intense hatred of Jews in those countries and cultures.”
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld — founder of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs think tank’s post-Holocaust and antisemitism program – felt similarly.
“I wouldn’t turn this into a major item of worry, because today the venue of communication of hatred is social media — Twitter and Facebook and these kinds of things,” he said. “I don’t think a 2,000-page book can compete with that as far as the impact of hatred is concerned.”
“Some of the books are bought by scholars, others are bought by curious people,” Gerstenfeld went on to say “If I’m interested in hatred of Jews, I would not be looking at Mein Kampf. There are far more effective propaganda means than Mein Kampf these days. It is no longer what it was, 80 years ago or so. Today, you can go on Muslim hate websites.”
Also, Gerstenfeld pointed out, “If I was a neo-Nazi, which I’m not, I wouldn’t want to buy the annotated edition.”
The new two-volume annotated version of Mein Kampf was published in January by Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History after a 70-year copyright held by the German state of Bavaria expired. At the time, the institute said the new version “seeks to thoroughly deconstruct Hitler’s propaganda in a lasting manner.” According to media reports, 85,000 copies have been sold thus far.
Dr. Shimon Samuels — the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s France-based director for international relations — noted that there was a danger in Mein Kampf’s newfound popularity in Germany due to what it represents in the eyes of far-right elements in the country.
“Mein Kampf has the same value to a neo-Nazi as the house Hitler was born in,” Samuels told The Algemeiner. “It’s not because of the content of the book. The book is a bore. But it’s a symbol.”
“The question, however, is no longer Mein Kampf, it’s the derivations of Mein Kampf and how it is being used in other circumstances,” Samuels went on to say, noting the use of passages from the book in antisemitic texts sold throughout the Arab world, including at international book fairs recently held in Doha and Sharjah. “That’s the frightening part. Mein Kampf, the German edition, is only the kernel of a much broader nut we have to crack.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt — president of the Conference of European Rabbis — expressed alarm, saying, “Increased sales of Hitler’s Mein Kampf in Germany coupled with a resurgence of far-right politics across Europe is deeply troubling. Political, community and religious leaders must speak out now. The dangerous rhetoric of the far-right must be starved of oxygen.”
Deidre Berger, the director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, also found the robust sales of Mein Kampf to be concerning — “particularly in an era of renewed popularity for conspiracy theories,” she said.
“It does not take large numbers of readers to reignite the popularity of key assertions in Mein Kampf, and the annotated version — which is being used for educational purposes — is reaching a much larger circle of readers than books sold,” Berger told The Algemeiner. “At a time when populism and antisemitism are on the rise, greater access to Mein Kampf can all too easily fuel again the ever-smoldering flames of antisemitism.”
Furthermore, she noted, “Civic education that helps students learn how to distinguish and counter hate propaganda, including antisemitism, is more essential than ever.”