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New French version of Hitler's Mein Kampf hits bookstores

June 2, 2021

The new translation, complete with scholarly commentary, has hit bookstores in France. The country's chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, said the book offered a lesson on how not to turn away when confronted with evil.

A picture taken on June 2, 2021 in Paris, shows the new French edition of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf", "Historicising Evil, A Critical Edition of Mein Kampf," published today with the text reflecting the "abominably badly written" original, according to its translator
The team that worked on the translation say it is close to the "abominably badly written" originalImage: Thomas Samson/Getty Images/AFP

A new version of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf  appeared in French bookstores on Wednesday, with its translator saying the text reflects the "abominably badly written" original.

Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, was penned by Hitler partly during his time in jail. It lays out his plans to expand Germany's borders and exterminate Jews.

Hitler's rule of Nazi Germany saw Europe plunged into World War II — and the Holocaust that killed roughly six million Jews, including more than 70,000 from France.

Advertisement hoarding for Mein Kampf (My Struggle) by Adolf Hitler
The book became a bestseller in Germany, with as many as 5 million copies sold by 1939Image: picture alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

Olivier Mannoni worked on translating the two-volume book for more than five years, alongside a team of historians and experts on National Socialism.

"I have the impression that I have touched radioactive uranium," he told RTL on Wednesday when asked about his work on the controversial book.

"I wanted to respect the indecipherable text of Mein Kampf," he said.

The only other edition ever published in the French language dates back to 1934, and it improves the often repetitive and turgid prose of the original, which is difficult to read.

"The rule at the time was to write in good French and to smooth over the asperities of the text," Mannoni added.

French publisher's not-for-profit vow

The new version is being published by Fayard, a major French publishing house.

Entitled "Historicizing Evil, A Critical Edition of Mein Kampf," the book will sell for €100 ($122), a deliberately high price intended to limit its distribution.

Only some 10,000 copies will be printed.

Any profits made would be donated to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

"We said a long time ago that we would not make a single cent from the publication of this book", said Sophie de Closets, the CEO of Fayard.

Mannoni said that a team of historians have added analytical notes that critique and debunk what Hitler sets out in the pages of the book.

"No Hitler fanatic is going to buy a publication like this, with every bit of text framed by 40 notes that contradict what is stated," he said.

Each of the 27 chapters includes analysis, and the Nazi leader's writing is heavily annotated, line by line, with commentary to provide historical context.

Mein Kampf was never banned by the French authorities.

Although it was prohibited during the war by the Nazi occupiers because it painted the French in such a bad light.

Its copyright expired in France in 2016 after 70 years, paving the way for newer editions to be published.

Polen Hitler Mein Kampf
The Polish academic edition came out earlier this year Image: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP

French chief rabbi offers cautious welcome to new edition

The controversial book's new edition received the backing of France's chief rabbi on Wednesday.

Haim Korsia said in an interview with the Le Point weekly that "it is a tragedy that the world failed to read Mein Kampf. For Hitler put into place what he wrote in that text."

"These notes, these introductions, are not there to embellish the author's thought, but to expose it in all its violence and its capacity to influence weak minds, to analyze how evil acts, " he said.

"Hence this title, Historicizing evil, while the world turned its head away. It is a lesson that is still relevant today."

Germany and Poland have published similar scholarly translations in recent years. 

Mein Kampf has been critically panned by a vast number of those who reviewed it during the Nazi era.

George Orwell aka Eric Arthur Blair  Animal Farm
George Orwell rubbished Hitler's world view for Germany as "a horrible brainless empire."Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Author George Orwell, writing in the New English Review in 1940, dismissed Hitler's vision for Germany as "a horrible brainless empire in which, essentially, nothing ever happens except the training of young men for war and the endless breeding of fresh cannon-fodder."

jf/aw (AFP, AP)