This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.After all these years, Adolf Hitler continues to exert a strange and hypnotic force on the German psyche. A weekly periodical called Zeitungszeugen has been denied permission to reprint heavily annotated excerpts from Mein Kampf, on the grounds that they couldn’t guarantee that readers would read the annotations. This would expose them, apparently, to the full, undiluted power of Hitler’s words, and they would all go out and start declaring war on Poland. I myself, in doing a bit of research for this post, accidentally allowed myself to catch sight of a picture of the front cover of the book, and am now seized with the desire to shout antisemitic slogans at random passers-by, so I know how dangerous this can be.Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Well, obviously not: that was deliberate hyperbole in order to make a point. But the Munich Regional Court’s decision is enough to make you believe that that was what they were afraid of. The problem, according to the court, is that Zeitungszeugen had no plans to interweave the original with the annotations; they were to be separated.
That the courts were involved should not be construed as official censorship, as that would be undemocratic. This is a copyright dispute. Because Hitler died childless and nobody else claimed ownership (his great-nephew, unsurprisingly, wanted nothing to do with it), the copyright passed to the State of Bavaria. It’s due to expire in 2016, and the Bavarian government is, ahem, slightly concerned about what will happen then. It’s not illegal to buy or own copies of Mein Kampf. It’s not unconstitutional because it was written long before the German Basic Law was. It’s all a bit of a headache, really.
To put it into perspective, we are talking about a two-volume work that Mussolini described as “boring”. It’s very antisemitic, yes, but its controversial status — apart from the fact that it was written by a man who made Beelzebub look like a primary school teacher — derives from a single sentence about how many problems could be solved by murdering a few thousand Jews. There’s a lot of other stuff in there, like Hitler’s plan to form an alliance with Italy and (get this) the British Empire to hold back the insidious and (according to Hitler) Jewish influence of Marxism. A plan which, famously, didn’t quite work out.
The stated aim is to prevent such stirring stuff from getting into the hands of neonazis, but to be honest, I think you’ll find that extremist groups will write their own scripts. Most other Germans — most other people, in fact — are perfectly well aware that Hitler was a nasty man and that slaughtering millions of people is at the “really atrociously evil” end of the scale, and their opinions won’t be swayed by reading Mein Kampf, or little bits of it, without the helpful notes about what a rotten cad Hitler is, or whatever is supposed to go in these annotations.
Worse than too much information (and this brings me to my clever Dickens quote) is not enough information. As a collective whole, Germany is very serious about the need to ensure that This Never Happens Again, but being kept in the dark about the man who started it all and what motivated him is hardly helping. If anything, it’s helping to deify him, possibly the worst thing that can happen, as his Almighty Word is being treated as sacred. It’s not the most violent book ever written (the Old Testament beats Mein Kampf hands down), and the only reason it’s treated with such care is the identity of its author.
In any case, this being 2012, I just found the complete, unabridged and unannotated text of Mein Kampf online in PDF format, fully accessible without any tricks, proxies, anonymizer or other devious methods short of a quick Google search. I can’t link to it — I’m allowed to read the book, but I’m not allowed to disseminate it — but I can tell you one thing: Mussolini was right.