Publisher Peter McGee may be insisting that his plans to publish extracts of Hitler’s viciously anti-Semitic tract Mein Kampf are aimed at “demystifying” the book, but it is certainly likely that the controversy surrounding the publication won’t be bad for business.
"We're aware of the dark power of this book but it stems from the fact that no one has read it. The aura of being forbidden accounts for its myth," McGee told Der Spiegel newsweekly. While he insists that he just wants to give Germans the opportunity to deal with the original text, others question his motives.
Charlotte Knobloch, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Wednesday that she objected to the plans to publish Mein Kampf, saying she suspected McGee was more interested in making money than in educating the public.
“This is one of the most evil pieces of inflammatory propaganda ever to be written in this country,” she said. While insisting that she trusted people’s ability to judge the work, Knobloch argued that such a terrible book did not deserve this amount of attention.
However, Horst Pöttker, a journalism professor who has provided some of the commentary that will be included in the short pamphlets, has defended the publication. "I think we should present it to as broad an audience as possible because it is the best way to learn what the National Socialists were thinking and what was so attractive about this ideology," he told AFP.
Hitler wrote the book while serving time in prison for his involvement in an attempted putsch in 1923. Around 10 million copies were published in Germany until 1945, making him a millionaire. And from 1936, every couple getting married received it as a wedding gift from the Nazi regime.
Starting next week McGee plans to publish the excerpts in three 16-page editions, which will be included with his historical newspaper Zeitungszeugen (Newspaper Witnesses). Each page of text from the book will be accompanied by a page of commentary. The planned print run is 100,000.
However, the Bavarian Finance Ministry is looking into whether it can prevent the publication. The book is not actually banned in Germany but the state of Bavaria, which holds the copyright until 2015, the 70th anniversary of Hitler’s death, has always refused permission for it to be printed.
It’s not the first time McGee has aggravated the Bavarian authorities. They had already tried to block his Zeitungszeugen project in 2009 when he printed extracts from Nazi-era newspapers. A court in Munich, however, ruled in his favor, stating that, although the publication of Nazi propaganda is illegal, McGee was not breaking the law because his intention was not to whip up racial hatred.
Family Minister Kristina Schröder, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has also voiced objection to the publication. “With the presence of so many terrible places of horror across Germany,” she told the Wiesbadener Kurier, “there is no need for excerpts of Mein Kampf on newsstands in order to understand the inhumanity of the Nazis’ crimes.”