Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s autobiography and National Socialist manifesto, is on sale in Germany now, for the first time since the end of World War II – and it’s a bestseller. The virulently anti-Semitic work is currently #2 on Der Spiegel’s bestseller list, a respected measure of German book sales.
It’s a particularly notable showing since many bookstores have said they would not stock it, or at least not display the book openly.
Mein Kampf had been kept out of print by the copyright owner, the Bavarian government, but it recently entered the public domain. As it happened, Mein Kampf and The Diary of Anne Frank lost their copyrights on the same day, January 1 of this year, because under European law, works enter the public domain the first day of January 70 years after the author’s death. Both Hitler and Frank died in 1945.
The heavy sales of Mein Kampf raise an obvious question: just who is buying it and why?
The optimistic view is that it is being bought by scholars and libraries, who see it as a vital tool in understanding the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. In support of that theory: the version being sold – a definitive edition, prepared by scholars and laden with footnotes -- is extremely long and expensive, with a cover price of about $65.
The darker view, of course, is that there are decades of pent-up demand among bad people in Germany for the words of the Fuhrer – and that demand is now suddenly being met.
Cutting against that theory: Mein Kampf has long been available for free online – so anyone who has wanted to read its twisted (and at times, barely comprehensible) text has been able to.
Germany’s Jewish community, which at first resisted publication, no longer objects – and seems to side with theory number one. “The annotated edition will not bring neo-Nazis much joy," Joseph Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was quoted as saying by the Times of Israel. "I can’t imagine anyone reading the book with its many annotations from page 1 until page 2,000.”