1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Publicity mock-up for the proposed publication
The idea of the work being sold at German kiosks appalls someImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Dictator's manifesto

March 8, 2012

A Munich court ruled on Thursday printing excerpts from Hitler's "Mein Kampf" remains forbidden in Germany. A British publisher had planned to publish extracts from a manifesto that still deeply divides opinion.


The prisoner had been in custody since November 11, 1923, after his attempted coup failed. The so-called "Beer Hall Putsch" in Munich had ended in a bloodbath. For Adolf Hitler, things appeared to be at an end.

He now had time to think about the future and, indeed, he used his forced retreat to do so. Outside, there was political chaos. The economy was badly depressed, unemployment was rampant and there were fights on the streets between left and right. The Weimar Republic was in turmoil.

On the inside, Hitler used his time to formulate his political vision. Within a matter of months, he had written "Mein Kampf," (published in English under the titles My Struggle or My Battle) - a crude mixture of ideological manifesto, autobiography and elements gathered together from other books and political pamphlets. He addressed racist and anti-Semitic ideas, spoke of war and revolution and laid the basis of his aspiration to lead Germany.

Two years on from his arrest, Hitler was once again a free man and his book was published. With his most loyal followers, he began to re-establish the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), which had been scattered to the four winds.

Inflammatory text, a bestseller

By 1933, almost 300,000 copies would have been sold in the form of an affordable "People's Edition." The book went on to become a bestseller owned by millions. It became required reading in every patriotic home, school study book and even a marriage gift from the state for newlyweds.

While historians have their doubts about whether the work was actually read by millions, Mein Kampf was a financial success for the party and publisher, as well as its author. Despite its nationalist fervor, the book was also available to read in other countries with translations into other languages, including English, French and Spanish.

An old edition
The book became a bestseller in its day, and was even a state gift to newlywedsImage: AP

When the Second World War had come to an end, people no longer wanted anything to do with Hitler's best-seller. Millions of examples left behind in German households were disposed of as an embarrassing legacy - but not all. Signed copies that went on sale in England in recent years were reported to have fetched large sums.

Of dubious quality...

The verdict of historians over the decades has been clear. Mein Kampf has been denounced as extreme, irrational, confused, dull, contrived, egocentric, stylistically flawed and unfathomable in its true political ideas.

"A peculiar, tainted odor from the pages hits the reader," observed Jochim C. Fest in his seminal book written about Hitler. Mein Kampf was a completely failed attempt at formulating a world view, say many experts.

Viennese historian Brigitte Hamann criticized the writing as unbearably boring. "Hitler did not contribute anything of himself," said Hamann. "He only ever copied, especially from the sermons of fringe political groups."

Dangerous propaganda?

In Germany, the publication of the book is banned. It is considered to be anti-constitutional and a tool for incitement. The idea is to prevent it from being used for malicious purposes and from being a political influence on those who read it. Many say that this is absurd in modern-day Germany, now a long-established democracy.

Hitler in the Festung Landsberg prison
Hitler wrote the book while in Landsberg PrisonImage: picture-alliance/dpa

British historian Ian Kershaw once said that attempts to censor the book made no sense in the age of the Internet. Indeed, the book is available to read in extracts, or in full, on the internet. It can be found in bookshops, and it can be found abroad.

Question of copyright

The latest debate about the book's publication in Germany, this time through the British publisher Peter McGee in his series "Zeitungszeugen," also touches on the boundaries of copyright law. The rights to Hitler's manuscript were transferred by the allies after the war to the Bavarian government, because it had been Hitler's home until the end.

The state government has, until now, fought successfully against every legal bid to publish excerpts.

Even now, the state government has let it be known that it will fight future attempts, even if the copyright is soon due to expire. Seven decades after the Hitler's suicide in 1945, there is the possibility that Mein Kampf could be published again.

It was long overdue, McGee told the news magazine Spiegel, that people should have the possibility of acquainting themselves with the original. Some speculate that his motives are purely commercial.

Academic revival

The book has long since been back on academic bookshelves. At the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, a high quality edition with commentary is being prepared in advance of any commercial publication. Historian Hamann is skeptical. "It gives Mein Kampf more honor than it deserves," said Hamann.

If necessary, a smaller copy of the book would be a possibility, says Hamann, who believes that the edition should not be filled with information about the book's role in world history.

The question of whether excerpts from the book should be sold on German newsstands remained controversial.

Family Minister Kristina Schröder
Schröder is strongly opposed to any such publicationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

To understand the inhumanity of the Nazi deeds, given that the country already has countless memorials to that end, German Family Minister Kristina Schröder has said such a development is "absolutely not" needed.

Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, disagrees - such a publication, he has said, might go at least some way to "breaking the spell" of the book.

Author: Cornelia Rabitz / rc
Editor: Andrew Bowen

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Russian honor guards welcome Xi Jinping at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow

Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow for talks with Putin

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage