Publish Adolf Hitler's infamous manifesto "Mein Kampf" in Germany? It sounds like the ultimate taboo. But a group of German historians is lobbying to do that, saying it's necessary to get an authoritative annotated edition ready for bookshops by the time the copyright runs out in 2015, opening the way for neo-Nazi groups to publish...
BERLIN — Publish Adolf Hitler’s infamous manifesto “Mein Kampf” in Germany? It sounds like the ultimate taboo.
But a group of German historians is lobbying to do that, saying it’s necessary to get an authoritative annotated edition ready for bookshops by the time the copyright runs out in 2015, opening the way for neo-Nazi groups to publish their own versions.
The memoir has been under a de facto publishing ban in Germany since the end of World War II, with the government body that holds the rights refusing to let anybody print it.
Bavaria’s Finance Ministry has rejected proposals by Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History to publish the tome, but there has been growing support for the idea. This week, the state’s science minister emerged as an energetic backer of printing a critical edition.
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“Once Bavaria’s copyright expires, there is the danger of charlatans and neo-Nazis appropriating this infamous book for themselves,” Wolfgang Heubisch said Thursday.
Edith Raim, a historian at the Munich institute, envisions a thorough, academic presentation that places Hitler’s work in historical context. She said that would be the best defense against those who might want to use the book to advance racist or anti-Semitic agendas.
Raim noted that “if someone really wants to get a copy of the book, then he can do so anyway, for example, over the Internet.”
Though widely available in the English-speaking world, the book has never been reprinted in Germany since World War II. While possession is not illegal, resale of old copies is tightly regulated, essentially limited to research purposes.
But German copyright law dictates that any author’s work enters the public domain 70 years after his or her death. In Hitler’s case, that is about five years away: The Nazi dictator killed himself in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.
After World War II, the Allies agreed to give the rights of “Mein Kampf” to the Bavarian state government.
The Munich historians tried to initiate a similar project two years ago, but the Bavarian Finance Ministry opposed it.
The ministry hopes publication of “Mein Kampf” can be prevented beyond 2015 under laws against incitement to hatred. It argues that holding back the book is matter of respect for the victims of the Holocaust.
The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, opposes publishing the book — but her organization’s general secretary takes the opposite view.
“I’d rather see the book with commentary than printed in a normal version,” Stephan Kramer said.
“It also represents a chance to demystify ‘Mein Kampf,’ ” he added. The vast majority of Germans are sufficiently educated and responsible to read it and draw their own conclusions, he said.
Raim and Kramer were skeptical that a court would forbid the book’s publication after 2015, as that might constitute a breach of freedom of expression.
The book is widely available around the world in translations including English, Arabic, Russian and Japanese; Bavaria has sought to block it from publication and sale in some countries.
A special case involves the U.S. and Britain, where the copyright had already been sold during Hitler’s lifetime.