Mein Kampf, one of the most notorious polemics of all time, will enjoy mass distribution in Germany for the first time since the second world warfollowing a decision by authorities to publish an annotated version of it, as well as bringing it out in ebook and audio formats.
The copyright on Adolf Hitler‘s autobiographical work, which is currently owned by the Bavarian state finance ministry, expires in 2015. Authorities in the southern state, which have long struggled with how to deal with it, are now planning a highly controlled re-release of the book after that date in an effort to stop it being exploited by rightwingers.
Publication has been forbidden in Germany since 1945 as has flaunting it in public or displaying it prominently in a shop window.
Critics of the ban have long argued it was ripe for overturning, particularly at a time when it is readily available in other countries and the book is downloadable on the internet.
Academics are working on producing an annotated version of the book which will include commentaries on the text that will seek to dissect and rubbish Hitler’s arguments. A separate, more simplified version for schools is being produced together with academics from the Munich Institute for Contemporary History, which Bavaria’s finance minister, Markus Söder, said was necessary, as more people would be reading it.
“The expiration of the copyright in three years’ time might well lead to more young people reading Mein Kampf,” he said, adding that he hoped the school version would help to demystify the book – which lays out the Nazi version of Aryan racial supremacy – and emphasise the “global catastrophe that this dangerous way of thinking led to”, he added.
As well as the new German versions, Bavaria is planning to issue a new English version, in addition to an ebook and an audio book. Half a million euros is being invested in the project.
Karl Freller, the director of the Foundation of Bavarian Memorials, said he would seek intense discussions with bookshops and publishing houses in the hope that they would voluntarily avoid selling or reprinting unannotated versions of Mein Kampf when its copyright expires.
There have been repeated rows over the publication of the book. The British publisher Peter McGee was recently forbidden from publishing annotated extracts from the book in a weekly historical newspaper.
The state of Bavaria owns the copyright to the tome which Hitler wrote while in prison in 1923 following his failed Munich coup, the Beer Hall Putsch, because its capital, Munich, was the last place he was registered as a resident before he became chancellor of Germany in 1933.
The first edition was published in 1925. Its healthy sales were guaranteed for years, not least because after 1933 every newly-married couple received a copy, and because secondhand bookshops were forbidden from selling it. Up until 1945 almost 10m copies of it were in circulation.
Kate Connolly, The Guardian