Copies of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf have been flying off the shelves in Germany since a new edition – the first in 70 years – was published a year ago, the book’s publisher claims.
But despite growing concerns about the rise of the far-right in Germany, the publisher – Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History (IfZ) – says it believes the interest in the new edition comes from educators, rather than neo-Nazi readers.
About 85,000 copies of the annotated, “critical edition” edition of the Nazi leader’s autobiography have been sold, IfZ announced Tuesday, prompting a sixth run to be published later this month.
“These sales figures have taken us by storm,” IfZ director Andreas Wirsching told German news agency dpa. “No one could really have expected them.”
The two-volume, 1,948-page tome – titled “Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition” – is annotated with critical analysis of the Nazi leader’s writings. Unlike previous versions of the book, which sets out Hitler’s racist ideas and was first published in two parts in 1925 and 1926, it comes wrapped in a plain white cover.
IfZ made the controversial decision to publish the new edition when the copyright on Hitler’s text – held by the Bavarian state government since 1945 – expired at the end of 2015.
Bavarian authorities, who had previously used their copyright to block reprints of the inflammatory book, opposed the new edition. But IfZ pressed ahead with the initiative, which a group of historians had argued was necessary to provide an authoritative version for educational purposes – and to pre-empt neo-Nazis from disseminating their own versions.
“It would have been irresponsible to allow this book to roam freely,” Wirsching told dpa.
The reaction from Jewish groups was mixed. Some, such as the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism, opposed the publication, but others, such as Board of Deputies of British Jews, said they could see understand the educational value of the project.
Asked who was buying the new book, the Institute of Contemporary History responded with a statement that it was difficult to get hard data on the motivations of the buyers, because it was mainly sold through booksellers.
But it did say that the publication of the book had received intense media attention, with many media outlets around the country asking local booksellers about the profile of buyers. According to these reports, the buyers were not right-wing radicals, but for the most part people who were generally interested in politics and history, and in many cases, teachers. There was also strong demand from libraries, the statement said.
Wirsching told dpa that he was “of the opinion that every intelligent teacher could take something from our edition and work with it.”
Germany has a range of laws prohibiting the glorification of its Nazi past, including those criminalizing Holocaust denial, as well as displaying the swastika or other Nazi symbols. But Hitler’s book itself is not banned, and older editions have remained available in libraries and second-hand bookshops.