Originally published on 18 July 1925, Adolf Hitler’s semi-autobiographical rant, Mein Kampf, sold moderately at first. A second book, a follow-up written in 1928, was never published. However, by the end of 1933, Hitler’s first year in power, Mein Kampf had sold over a million copies. By 1939, at the outbreak of war, it was outselling all other titles in Germany with the exception of the Bible. Honeymooning couples were given a copy of Mein Kampf to savour, and no patriotic German home could be seen without a copy taking pride of place on the bookshelves. Although Hitler later claimed he regretted writing it, Mein Kampf made the German dictator a very rich man.
Now, 87 years on from its first appearance, excerpts from Mein Kampf are set to be published in Germany by a British publisher, Albertus Press. The book has not seen the light of day in Germany since the end of the Second World War but, contrary to popular belief, it is not banned there. Using the Swastika and the Nazi salute for non-educational purposes are forbidden in Germany but not the purchase or reading of the central ideological tenet of Hitler’s thinking. However the state of Bavaria, which seized the copyright to Mein Kampf after the war, has steadfastly refused to re-publish the book fearing it could fuel racial tensions and be exploited by neo-Nazi groups.
‘The unreadable book’
Peter McGee, Managing Director of Albertus, intends to publish three annotated excerpts of the text, each with an initial print run of 100,000 copies. ‘Mein Kampf is an extremely bad book, it is badly written, has awkward language and no internal logic,’ McGee told the German newspaper De Spiegel, ‘We’re aware of the dark power of this book but it stems from the fact that no one has read it. The aura of being forbidden accounts for its myth.’ McGee’s excerpts of Hitler’s prose will be accompanied by a critical commentary. The front cover of the Albertus edition features a portrait photograph of Hitler with a black bar across his eyes with the words, in German, ‘The unreadable book’.
But Bavaria may try to block McGee’s publication, based on the infringement of its copyright. McGee argues that as the excerpts are being used for educational purposes and that the copyright applies only to the publication of the complete work, he is breaking no law – German or otherwise. Bavaria’s finance ministry however may claim that the passages are too long to be considered excerpts and therefore are still covered by copyright.
‘My 4½ Year Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice’
Hitler was serving a jail term following his failed attempt to seize power in the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. He was tried for high treason and could have faced the death penalty but got away with a lenient sentence of five years. In the event, he served less than nine months, being released in December 1924. Although frequently depressed and talked of suicide, Hitler used his time in prison constructively, dictating to his deputy, Rudolph Hess, his autobiographical, ideological tirade. Published in two volumes, the first on 18 July 1925, and the second in 1926, Mein Kampf was originally entitled ‘My 4½ Year Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice‘; the new title being suggested by his publisher.
Much of Mein Kampf is devoted to race; the need for a pure race of German Aryans untainted by the blood of different ethnic groups. The Aryan race was of the highest order, the ‘bearers of culture’; the Jewish race (Hitler defined Jews by race not religion) of the lowest. Hitler’s stated aim was to eliminate the Jews (referred to throughout the book by various unpleasant metaphors: parasites, germs, vermin) from society. He expounded at length on the need for Lebensraum, the provision of extra living space for the growth of the German population at the expense of the Slavic races of Eastern Europe.
In just three years time Mein Kampf comes out of copyright, 70 years after the death of Hitler. But at over 600 pages, who, out of curiosity, would want to read this dirge in full is beyond imagination.
Read more about Hitler in Hitler: History In An Hour and Nazi Germany: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats and as audio.
See also Hitler’s account book auctioned
Rupert Colley’s novella, My Brother the Enemy, set during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, is now available.