Opinion: Why Germany no longer needs to fear ′Mein Kampf′ | Books | DW | 07.01.2016
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Opinion: Why Germany no longer needs to fear 'Mein Kampf'

An annotated version of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" goes on sale in Germany this week. Germany shouldn't be afraid of the book, says DW's Susanne Spröer, but should use it to prevent history from repeating itself.

April 30, 1945: World War II would come to an end in just a few days. In the Führer's bunker, Adolf Hitler, the man appointed as German ruler in 1933, shoots himself in the head.

Under his dictatorship, Germany had thrown the world into a gruesome war and murdered six million Jews. But 20 years earlier, it had already been clear what this man would do.

Hitler was serving a prison sentence in 1924 when he began writing the book that he would later publish under the title, "Mein Kampf" ("My Struggle"). The malicious diatribe laid the foundation for the anti-Semitic racial theory that would spur the Holocaust as well as the violent expansion policy that would be carried out during the war.

Copyright expires on 'Mein Kampf'

Now, 70 years after the death of the author, the book's copyright has expired and it is free to be republished and sold on the German market. Until now, the state of Bavaria, as heir to the copyright, had prevented publication. It wanted to hinder the spread of national-socialist ideology and pay respect to the victims of the Nazi regime.

"Mein Kampf," in which he explains his inhuman ideology, is the Nazi leader's only autobiographical document. Should we fear his words? Words can be strong and dangerous, indeed. "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings," wrote German poet Heinrich Heine a century before Hitler.

Susanne Spröer, Copyright: DW

Susanne Spröer heads DW's online culture department

The Nazis burned both books and human beings. Is it not irresponsible to sell this text by a mass murderer in German bookstores?

Germany has changed since Hitler

No, I think it is not at all irresponsible. Germany has changed since then. The Germany of the 21st century is no longer the Weimar Republic, in which far-right demagogues could manipulate the masses with the help of sly propaganda.

Back then, the majority of the German population was still influenced by the authoritarian structures of the German Reich, which had existed from 1871 until the end of World War I in 1918. The young democracy, established in 1919 after the war, was met with skepticism and rejection.

Critics might object by reminding that even today, people applaud far-right thinking. Yes, that's true: We've seen that at the PEGIDA demonstrations and through hate-filled posts on social media platforms.

Most Germans stand solidly on a democratic foundation. Germany has a stable democracy - that becomes even clearer when we look abroad. It's something we continually have to fight for, but 70 years after the end of World War II, the demagogy of "Mein Kampf" is no longer something we have to fear.

Annotations reveal 'Mein Kampf' for what it is

However, it is extremely important to recognize the text for what it is. And that's exactly why it's a good thing that "Mein Kampf" is being released in an annotated edition, which a team of historians from the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich have spent years working on.

Critical annotations help readers put the original wording in a historical context, give background information on individuals, provide context and "cut off Hitler's demagogic discourse," the director of the institute, Andreas Wirsching, told DW in an interview. Half-truths are exposed and provocative lies uncovered.

That removes the book's aura of danger, which had let to its ban and tabooization. Its romanticization is brought to an end when "Mein Kampf" is pulled into the public light.

Everyone is now free to make what they will of Hitler's autobiographic self-representation and his inhuman theses, which are often formulated in a hard-to-swallow, sesquipedalian manner. Everyone can counter the far-right demagogue with their own logical arguments and judge him for themselves.

New edition an antidote to far-right misuse

It's highly unlikely that far-right groups will misuse the annotated edition. "Mein Kampf" has already been available online for a long time. That lends urgency to the annotated edition, which can serve as an antidote to the versions floating around online. How well it manages to do that will require a detailed analysis of the edition.

It will also be interesting to see who actually purchases and reads it. Will it draw a broad audience (which seems unlikely) or only those well versed in history? It's also good that the schools in Germany will integrate the edition. State governments in both Berlin and Bavaria have already signaled openness to the critical text, as long as it can be used to expose Nazi ideology and right-wing extremism. That will give pupils access to an important historical source when it comes to the Nazi period.

The rhetoric that Hitler used no longer works. But we must continue asking the question of how the Nazis' horrific crimes were possible in the first place. Reading "Mein Kampf" can help us find answers to that question.

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