A headline proclaiming "Huge Fire in the Reichstag" greeted Germans at newsstands Thursday — and although the story is more than 70 years old, customers are snapping it up.
Dieter Grosse, who runs a newsstand at Berlin's busy Friedrichstrasse station, said he has sold about 600 copies of Zeitungszeugen — a new publication that reprints Nazi-era newspapers — since it first edition went on sale Jan. 8.
But the project has drawn criticism from Jewish organizations and officials in the German state of Bavaria, who fear the reproductions could be misused by neo-Nazis.
Critics say project is dangerous
Stephan Kramer, general secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews, argues the project is dangerous because the historical context printed along with the original newspaper pages is not strong enough to prevent abuse by extremists.
"These copies are nothing more than examples for the neo-Nazis ... and I do not think they should be allowed to be sold in German newsstands," Kramer said.
Zeitungszeugen, a word play on the German words for "newspaper" and "witness," focuses on newspapers from the years the Nazis were in power — from 1933 to 1945.
Thursday's second edition features a reproduction of the March 1, 1933, front page of the Nazis' Voelkischer Beobachter newspaper, which includes a column by chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels blaming Communists for setting the national parliament, the Reichstag, alight. Adolf Hitler seized on the event to consolidate his power.
Zeitungszeugen includes a spectrum of publications from far left to far right, and prints commentary and analysis by historians to explain their significance.
Kesslin Nowak, who is studying to become a history teacher, said she thought the publication could be a useful teaching tool.
"I think that it is helpful to be able to show students with this paper what the originals really looked like," Nowak said after purchasing the second edition.
Publisher defends paper
The London-based publisher Albertas Limited says the paper is meant to provide a historical overview of the events leading up to and throughout World War II.
It says the project was targeted to coincide with this year's 60th anniversary of the founding of Western Germany and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which paved the way for German reunification.
But officials in Bavaria have vowed to take legal action to block further editions from appearing on newsstands, saying it violates copyright and post-World War II German laws stating it is illegal to display or reproduce symbols used by the Nazis, unless for scientific or educational purposes.
Bavaria inherited rights to most of Nazi publications, including Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," after the war.
Editor-in-chief Sandra Paweronschitz insists the paper is fully legal and argues it provides insight into the social setting of the time.
"What I find so interesting about this project is ... that newspapers offer such a wide view in the attitudes about and atmosphere of daily life," Paweronschitz said. "It is very amusing sometimes, very informative and enlightening to read."