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Historians push for new ‘Mein Kampf’ version

Image: Hitler's "Mein Kampf"
In this Dec. 8, 1999, file photo, a book store displays Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," and another book about Hitler entitled "Talks with Hitler." Hidajet Delic / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

German historians want Adolf Hitler's infamous manifesto, "Mein Kampf," to be republished in the country before the copyright lapses in 2015.

Though the book is widely available in the English-speaking world, its publication has been banned in Germany since World War II and its resale is tightly regulated.

But German copyright law dictates that an author's work enters the public domain 70 years after his or her death, and that deadline is fast approaching. Hitler killed himself in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.

Before that anniversary, historians want Bavaria — which controls the copyright because Hitler's last official address was in Munich — to authorize an annotated version of "Mein Kampf." They say a thorough, academic presentation that places Hitler's work in historical context would be the best defense against radical right-wing groups and neo-Nazis who might want to use the book to advance racist agendas once the copyright expires and anyone is free to publish it.

"The legends and myths connected with this book should be destroyed once and for all," said Hans-Christian Taeubrich, director of the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, the Bavarian city where Hitler staged some of his most monstrous gatherings.

The republishing would be joint effort
Taeubrich envisions a joint project between his center, prominent historians and the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. The institute's director, Horst Moeller, has also called for "Mein Kampf" to be annotated and republished.

The work should begin soon, says Taeubrich, because it might take up to three years to illuminate all the sources Hitler used in his rambling and highly subjective book.

"This work has not been done before," said Taeubrich. "Everyone knows this book and what it symbolizes, but no one has recorded where his inspiration came from."

Bavarian lawmakers have routinely turned down calls to reprint the book for fear that it might be misused by right-wing extremists and out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust.

A representative of Bavaria's Finance Ministry, which manages the copyright, told a German radio station last week that the decision not to publish the book was "commonly accepted and highly valued, especially by the Jewish community, domestically and abroad." The ministry did not immediately respond to calls Tuesday seeking comment on Taeubrich's statements.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany had previously supported Bavaria's efforts to suppress the book, but this week the council's director, Stephan Kramer, told The Associated Press that he now endorses work on a new academic edition, a move he described as a "deep change of position."

"It makes more sense to have a commentated version published as soon as possible, not only in book form but also on the Internet," said Kramer.

Book became a best-seller
Hitler wrote the 700-page book — its English translation is "My Struggle" — after he was jailed in the aftermath of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, the book became a best-seller that made Hitler rich. Copies of it were given free to every German soldier and newlywed couple, bolstering circulation that reached around 10 million copies.

"Mein Kampf" was banned from publication after World War II. Possession and resale of old copies in Germany is legal, but highly regulated. And while the book is widely available in translations including Arabic, Russian and Japanese, Bavaria has sought to block it from publication and sale in some countries. Last year the state filed suit against the owner of a Polish bookstore who was selling German-language copies of the book online without permission.

The book has sold well in translation in the Arab world and in Turkey, where it became a surprise best-seller in 2005.