Print and be damned? Germany agonizes over ‘Mein Kampf’

With only two months to go before the copyright of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" expires, debate is raging over whether the anti-Semitic manifesto should again be published in Germany, where all reprints have been halted since the defeat of the Nazis.
Authorities in the southern Bavaria region were handed the copyright by Allied forces after World War II. For seven decades, they have refused to allow it to be republished out of respect for victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.
But as "Mein Kampf" — whose title means "My Struggle" — falls into the public domain on January 1, differences have emerged over how it should be treated in future.
Some scholars want reprints of the original text to be allowed, saying they would serve to demystify the notorious 800-page document.
Others including Jewish groups want to maintain the ban, likening reprints to opening Pandora's box.
Historians at the Institute of Contemporary History of Munich (IFZ), meanwhile, have gone for the middle-ground — producing an annotated version of the two-volume tome to be made available in bookstores in January.
This IFZ version — which has been in the works since 2009 and runs to 2,000 pages with the added commentary — would be the first print version of the original text here since 1945.
But it will also "deconstruct and put into context Hitler's writing", the institute wrote.
The book, to retail at 59 euros (US$65), will look at: "How were his theses conceived? What objectives did he have? And most important: which counterarguments do we have given our knowledge today of the countless claims, lies and assertions of Hitler?"
Charlotte Knobloch, who is president of the Jewish community in Munich and Upper Bavaria, told AFP however that even the annotated version carried certain risks as it "contains the original text" which "should itself not be printed".
Hitler's "book is dangerous. It is a Pandora's box. One does not know what's going on within the reader's mind," she warned.
"It is the ideological basis of the mass, industrial extermination of the Jewish people.
"It paved the way for the Holocaust. Of course it is in the interest of right wing militants and Islamists to spread these ideas," said Knobloch.
Partly autobiographical, "Mein Kampf" outlines Adolf Hitler's ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. He wrote it in 1924 while he was imprisoned in Bavaria after a failed coup.
Some 12.4 million copies were published in Germany until 1945, and the sale, purchase and possession of the book is today not banned in Germany. Copies can also be found in academic libraries.
However, its reprinting has been restricted by Bavarian authorities, who were charged with administering the copyright and preventing the dissemination of Nazi ideology.
Even today, the region takes a conservative view on the issue.
Although it provided financial backing of 500,000 euros in 2012 to the IFZ's plan, Bavaria withdrew its official support in late 2013 for fear that it could hurt victims of the Nazis.
"I cannot seek a ban on the NPD (a far-right party) while at the same time have our state's emblem used in the publication of 'Mein Kampf'," said Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer.
'Critical version necessary'
However, journalist Sven Felix Kellerhoff, who wrote a book retracing the history of "Mein Kampf", believes that the blanket refusal to take a public and critical look at the document has had the unwanted side effect of ennobling the tract.
"It is absolutely necessary for a serious critical version of 'Mein Kampf' to be made available to the public" for educational purposes, he said.
Barbara Zehnpfennig, a specialist on totalitarianism at Passau University, went further, saying that reprints of the book in its original version should also be allowed.
"It is very important for us to take an in-depth look at Hitler and his concept of the world," she said.
"We are all adults and we have had a practicing democracy for 70 years. I think that we are capable of reading such a book" without being contaminated with racist ideology, she said.
"There is a German peculiarity of worrying about what others might say. I think we can show more self-confidence.
"This is part of our history, and we have been very thorough with how we have come to terms with it. We have more than regretted what has happened in Germany," she said.

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