Dr Martin Stern was liberated from Theresienstadt, and is a regular speaker at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum telling of his experience during the Holocaust. Dr Stern has kindly written a guest blog, providing us with his own opinion on the reprinting of Mein Kampf. 

There’s a new edition of ‘Mein Kampf’. Should you rush out and buy one?

On the 31st of December 2015 the copyright on ‘Mein Kampf’ expired at the end of the 70th year since 1945, the year its unlamented author died. The Bavarian government acquired the copyright and used this to prevent republication in Germany. Preparing for the day when it could no longer do so, it made a grant of 7 million Euros to a group of scholars associated with the German Institute for Contemporary History in Munich to spend six years preparing a 2000-page annotated version in two large volumes with the aim of exposing Hitler’s lies and discrediting his book. It contains more than 3,700 annotations. The result was published in German on the 8th of January 2016 and sold out within a few days, with demand hugely outstripping the print run and requests for translations into other languages. The Bavarian government did not want to profit from the enterprise and set the price deliberately low. You can buy it online via Amazon, but from profiteers at a huge mark-up.

On the 12th of January The Guardian gave its view. It described the annotated version as being produced with “care, wisdom and admirable scholarship” although it quotes the Encyclopaedia Britannica as describing the original as “turgid, repetitious, wandering, illogical, and, in the first edition at least, filled with grammatical errors”. Various Jewish leaders expressed opinions, many of them negative, about the principle of publishing the new annotated edition.

On January 15th I was present at a meeting held by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem at which six Holocaust scholars discussed the book. The six were on stage simultaneously for short presentations and a very lively discussion. Mostly we heard strongly held opinions for and against, including the view of a leading historian that the book was without a shadow of doubt ’treif’, although they did not entirely condemn the critical edition. Others, with one notable exception, defended the enterprise.

It seems to me that such expressions of opinion are not terribly useful. Of course the original is hateful. But we cannot have ‘no go areas’ in historical study. More than twelve million copies were produced during Hitler’s lifetime and however bad the book may be and however many copies remained unread, it has to be considered as a factor in history. We need to learn how to inoculate future generations against such garbage. Secretive as Hitler was about his background, the book was his product and is evidence about him. People will read it for good or bad motives and in either case appropriate scholarly comment should be beneficial. I disagree entirely with those who have argued that the effort is wrong in principle.

By far the most useful comments at the Yad Vashem event came from Professor Götz Aly, author of important books about the Holocaust. He had clearly found time to examine the new product and had devastating criticisms. We in the audience had photocopies of two facing pages on our seats to show the layout. Around a central panel containing the original text were notes taking up the greater part of the pages. Professor Aly complained that many of the annotations were utterly trivial and of no conceivable importance, whilst major aspects which really did require explanation for readers now were inexplicably not annotated. For example the fact that some words were hyphenated in one edition but not in others was meticulously commented. Unfortunately I can’t remember the details of the omissions, but for me Professor Aly carried the day. He is not alone in his opinion because I had heard a similar comment from another scholar before the meeting.

Surely if Mein Kampf is republished as it inevitably will be, it should be published with commentary designed to inform readers who do not have the background knowledge required and to defuse its pernicious effect on gullible fanatics. Such publications should be different for different audiences, e.g.  the general public and scholarly researchers. For most users such an edition should be vasty shorter and be based on input from a wider range of scholars in the field.  These scholars should consider not only what they know, but what is useful to the intended audience. It could surely be done for far less than seven million Euros and in far less than six years. For scholars a curated online collaborative version might be a lot better than two hefty doorstops containing mistakes never likely to be corrected.

Although I have not examined the publication myself and would not be expert enough if I did, my recommendation is not to buy it for your library, still less for yourself, without checking it out in the light of the above.



Institute for Contemporary History, Munich and Berlin: http://www.ifz-muenchen.de/no_cache/aktuelles/themen/edition-mein-kampf/mein-kampf-english/print/ja/print.html

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/13/mein-kampf-german-bestseller-lists-new-edition-adolf-hitler

The Times: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/13/mein-kampf-german-bestseller-lists-new-edition-adolf-hitler