July 12, 2014
What poorly written and turgid 700-page book has sold more than 15 million copies in the past and has recently become a bestseller in Croatia, India, Turkey, Russia, and Qatar? As a result of a recent decision in Bavaria, Germany, even a schoolchild will know that it is Mein Kampf (My Struggle), written by Adolf Hitler in his prison cell in Landsberg am Lech and signed on October 16, 1924.
Though the publication of the book was never technically illegal in Germany, the state of Bavaria that held the copyright refused to allow its republication. However, that copyright will expire in December 2015, and plans to publish an “annotated” edition are underway. This version is the result of critical editing of the book by five scholars attached to the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich.
Understandable emotion has been aroused by the announcement of republication of the book, a work that can be considered the original blueprint for the Holocaust and a fulsome expression of hatred of Jews. The difficult question is whether to oppose the publication of this hateful book, even when accompanied by appropriate comment and annotation. The issues are not simply the nature of the book and the career of Hitler, one of history’s mass murderers, but also whether it can still be a weapon for anti-Semitic and even anti-Israeli agitators today.
In a sense, Hitler answered this question. In Book 2, chapter 6, he held that the written world in its limited effect would in general serve only to retain or deepen a point of view or opinion that is already present. He anticipated his own future activity in the Nazi Party by arguing that the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution were brought about not by philosophical or theoretical writings, including those of Karl Marx, but by the actions of agitators. Contemporary European anti-Semitic political parties do not need Hitler’s own “theories” for their ranting.
On balance, for a number of reasons, the conclusion should be not to oppose the republication. First, it is not a question of censorship. Mein Kampf is easily available on the internet, and copies of previous editions are available in bookshops. Secondly, contemporary anti-Semites, whether in European countries or in the Arab and Muslim world, do not need the venom of Hitler to support their shameful agenda or to increase their political support. Indeed, in the present political climate, where Islamists attempt to use fallacious concepts such as “defamation” to prevent any criticism of Islam or the Prophet, it might appear hypocritical to stop the appearance of even such a disgraceful work as Mein Kampf.
Beyond these arguments, the reappearance of Mein Kampf might help focus attention of at least three current issues. One is the repudiation of Hitler’s historical analysis of World War I. In Book 1, chapter 10, he lays blame on the Jews for the German collapse and loss of the war, and for the Versailles Treaty. It is important to counter this accusation by discussing the considerable modern scholarship on that war. In spite of strong differences on the causes and conduct of the conflict, on whether Germany was responsible, as argued by Fritz Fischer, or Serbia, or Russia, or that there was no single guilty party, no respectable historian would attribute blame to “the Jews” as Hitler did.
This particular issue is important – not only because of Hitler’s deliberate falsification, but also, and even more so, because it became the basis of “the big lie” that has been used so frequently against the State of Israel. It was Hitler who wrote that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility. The great masses of people more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a little lie. Hitler’s explanation was the supposition that people lie about little things but would be ashamed of lies too big to swallow. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker, who are prone to deem Israel an “apartheid” state, should take note.
Perhaps the most important of the lessons to be learned from Mein Kampf is the meaningless of the insistence on race. This insistence is really the central concept of the book and indeed of Nazism. For Hitler, “the Jew has always been a people with definite racial characteristics, and never a religion…To what an extent the whole existence of a people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Throughout the book there are countless expressions of the undesirable characteristics of Jews: syphilitic, parasites, nomads, usurers, no love of clean water with their physical uncleanliness, maggots in a rotting body.
Hitler was to base his policy on this assessment of Jews. On January 30, 1939, he spoke of “settling the Jewish problem… the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.” In the midst of the Holocaust, Hitler on January 30, 1944, when celebrating his coming to power thirty years earlier, called for “detoxifying the Jewish bacteria.” He warned that if Germany lost World War II, “the fate of the German nation would be its complete extermination through Bolshevism. And this goal is also the openly admitted intention of international Jewry.” Hitler was not the first, or the last, to speak of the “Jewish conspiracy,” but he was the one doing the most to deal with the fantasy.
The reissue of Mein Kampf will remind us of the fallacies and dangers of racism, a concept that the preamble of the Constitution of UNESCO in 1945 held was one of the social evils the organization would combat. The presentation of history as a war of races should stop, as should racial prejudice. The theory of racial purity and hierarchy of races, as Ashley Montague wrote in 1942, does not rest on any scientific foundation. Hitler was wrong.
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.