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"Mein Kampf"

Günther Birkenstock / cd
April 6, 2013

The copyright for Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is currently held by the German state of Bavaria. Printing the book remains forbidden. But one political party is wondering: what happens when the copyright expires in 2015?

(Photo: no info)
Adolf Hitler, mein KampfImage: picture-alliance/dpa

For German parliamentarian Burkhard Lischka, it's a no-brainer. The member of Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) would find it an insult to victims of the holocaust were Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" to become available once more in German bookstores - or for right-wing extremists to hand out freely in pedestrian zones.

"That has to be prevented with every legal means available," Lischka said in an interview with DW. "I think that sorry book has a permanent place in history's dustbin."

That's why he, together with other colleagues of the SPD party, have requested that the German government declare its position on the potential publication of "Mein Kampf" in 2016 and beyond.

Until 2016, the German state of Bavaria will continue to hold exclusive publication rights to "Mein Kampf." Since inheriting those rights after the Second World War, the German state has prevented the book's reprinting within Germany's borders in order to avoid the dissemination of National Socialist ideology.

(Photo: Jens Wolf/dpa)
SPD parliamentarian Burkhard Lischka is against all forms of "Mein Kampf" publicationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In Europe, a book's copyright expires 70 years after the death of its author. in the case of "Mein Kampf," that expiration will occur on December 31, 2015. Thereafter "Mein Kampf" enters the public domain, allowing anyone to publish and distribute it.

Israeli agreement

The German government has responded cautiously to the SPD's request for an official position, promising instead to look into the legal implications of a full ban on the book's publication. The expiration of the book's copyright is also a current topic of discussion between the Israeli and German governments. Those talks are centered on a "collective interest in the effective prevention of the dissemination of inhumane ideas."

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Hermann is more frank in his own assessment. In February, speaking of Hitler's book, he said that, "The original text has a clearly discriminative character with regard to relevant laws." The minister has called for legal action to be taken against anyone distributing "Mein Kampf."

The laws in question are found in on Paragraph 130 of Germany's legal code, says lawyer and media expert Tim Hoesmann. Hitler clearly defames individuals and religious groups within "Mein Kampf," Hoesmann says, making it very likely that it the book will be banned under German law.

"Whether the judges will frame their judgment that way, no one can say," the lawyer told DW.

A partial ban

On the Internet, numerous extracts from Hitler's incendiary work can be found with relative ease - and with the German justice system effectively powerless to stop it. That's in addition to the many countries throughout the world that allow "Mein Kampf" to be sold in bookstores.

(Photo: DW/Behzad Keshmiripour)
The Iranian version of "Mein Kampf" at the Teheran book fairImage: DW

But for parliamentarian Burkhard Lischka, that's no reason to allow the book to be published in Germany.

"That'd send a fatal signal," he said. "I believe that, as the German state, based on our history, we have a unique responsibility."

Lawyer Tim Hoesmann believes that any ban will ultimately depend on the manner in which the book is published. "There is clear scientific interest in the work, and versions of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" that include commentary will surely be judged differently than a printed version with no commentary."

Breaking the spell

Since 2009, the Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) based in Berlin and Munich has been working on their own edition of "Mein Kampf" which includes commentary. While the project has received financial support from Bavaria, the German government has thus far remained neutral. The IfZ intends to push forward with its initiative, one that they feel could provide a "profound historical analysis of the Nazi dictatorship."

For Lischka of the SPD party, however, the IfZ's efforts are questionable. He believes it will ultimately prove difficult to differentiate between "good" commentary and "bad" commentary in any meaningful legal sense.

"If you were to generally allow the work to be sold with commentary, then that leads us to the possibility that right-wing extremists will re-publish the book with commentary none of us would want," the parliamentarian said.

(Photo: AP/Huntington Library)
Can commentary render the book less dangerous?Image: AP

The historians in Munich, though, are going forward at top speed with their analysis, which is meant to accompany the complete text of Hitler's book. The researchers hope to release their annotated edition of "Mein Kampf" on or near the day the Bavarian copyright expires.

Each chapter would be categorized in terms of the intellectual history preceding it and contradictions within the text would be revealed. "It shouldn't be pure Hitler here," said the IfZ's spokesperson, Simone Paulmichl, in an interview with DW.

For Paulmichl, the IzF project will be an important source of insight. "The more this book is shrouded in secrecy, the stronger the effect it will have in times of doubt."

Lawyer Tim Hoesmann views things similarly. "I think it's a step in the right direction. If the book's completely forbidden, the myths surrounding it will continue to grow."

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