Der Schelm, a publishing house in Leipzig, Germany—it’s owned by Adrian Plessinger, who has been “convicted of multiple counts of inciting racial hatred” according to Deutsche Wells—has begun selling a new edition of the 1943 version of Mein Kampf that is “unchanged and without comment.” Doing so may be against the law.
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s treatise on his vision for the future of the Austro-German state and the Aryan race, was published in two volumes between 1925 and 1926. During his time as a rising political force and eventual place as Führer of Germany and leader of the Nazi Party, the book sold by the millions within the expanding German empire, becoming de facto required reading for the German populace. Hitler’s death in 1945 brought an end to the Nazi regime, but it started another debate—that of intellectual property rights.
This January, after a period of seventy years in which the rights to Mein Kampf were still retained by the Bavarian government, Mein Kampf entered the public domain in Germany. The Bavarian government made a decision to allow a German publisher to release a critical edition of the books, complete with over 3,500 annotations and notes from German scholars and historians. The idea behind the release was to contextualize and preface the book for a new generation of German readers. Though that decision itself was not without controversy, especially among Jewish groups in Germany, these recent developments have complicated the situation even further.
According to The New York Times, prosecutors in Leipzig are currently looking into whether or not there is any legal precedent that would allow them to press charges against Der Schelm, since the sale of Mein Kampf in its original form—that is, without the updated annotations—”risks violating Germany’s law against the distribution of Nazi propaganda.” German law on the promotion or production of Nazi ideology is notoriously stringent, emblematic of the liberal bent of post-war German political ideology.
On its website, Der Schelm states that this printing will allow for “critical assessment” should readers “have the courage to make [their] own judgment[s].” By this logic, the principle seems to be that no matter how repugnant some ideas may be, they should be judged on their merits rather than be preordained as unworthy of consideration. In other words, in the marketplace of ideas, all ideas should have their day in court.
While the importance of free speech can’t be discounted, there’s something to be said for acknowledging progress, however. In an article about the sanctity of debate (here, regarding BDS), Liel Liebowitz writes
To declare that something is irredeemably evil and something else good is a failure not only of the imagination but also of the moral instinct, which, like every good compass, is only worth a damn if it is able to capture the tiniest shifts in direction. All this is true until, sadly, it is not: There are some moments, rare and arduous, in which our survival depends on our ability to clearly tell black from white.
The study and constant reframing of the rise of Nazism and its ideological tenets are deeply important. However, such heinous, categorically immoral ideas, such as those brought up in Hitler’s anti-Semitic tome, have been discredited by any serious thinker; to suggest that Mein Kampf is just another sociopolitical ideology that should be studied like any other is a mistake. To ask readers of this new printing to read Mein Kampf with an open mind, as Der Schelm does, laughs in the face of open-mindedness because… it’s Mein Kampf!
This printing, it turns out, is coming from a company that has also published an unabridged version of Henry Ford’s screed on the “Jewish menace,” The International Jew. What’s more is that Bild, a German newspaper, claims to have discovered a celebratory email sent around among German neo-Nazis extolling the virtues of reading Mein Kampf “without tedious do-gooder commentary.” In this case, there seems to be enough anti-Semitic smoke around the publisher’s faux-noble intentions to yell, “Fire!”
Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.