The prohibition of Hitler’s infamous work is a symbolic measure that has lost all impact, says Daniella Peled
A British publisher will be censoring excerpts of Mein Kampf in his historical magazine this week because of possible legal action, with sections from Adolf Hitler’s notorious magnus opus blurred to make the words illegible.
Peter McGee had planned to feature three annotated segments of Mein Kampf in Zeitungszeugen, a magazine that features facsimiles of Nazi-era newspapers, before a court in Bavaria whose government has held the copyright since the end of World War II — ruled that this would be a violation of the law.
“It is good that the publisher is now legally forbidden from spreading this diatribe,” said Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Soder in response to the decision.
But is it? And who exactly is this continuing ban supposed to protect? Some Jewish leaders in Germany are in favour of publishing a new edition of the book, albeit one heavily annotated by respected historians.
Although publishing Nazi literature for non-educational purposes remains against German law, the copyright for Mein Kampf runs out in 2015, 70 years after Hitler’s death. This is therefore an issue Germany is going to be forced to confront imminently.
One could argue that the ban, which may have had some logic decades ago when Germany was still emerging from the dark years of National Socialism, now only serves to increase the peculiar interest in this book.
It is certainly hard to see what remains to be achieved through this ongoing squeamishness in republishing the Nazi bible. Millions of copies in German and translations into multiple languages are commonplace. E-bay alone has over 100 copies currently on offer, including many of Nazi-era vintage complete with embossed golden swastikas, some for as little than 20 dollars. A quick internet search leads you to a digital version of the book.
Not to mention the fact that it is famously long and turgid and that few people, even amongst the ranks of committed neo-Nazis, can have actually read all the way through Hitler’s 720-page tome.
And awareness of the author’s legacy is hardly lacking in Germany, where this week, in addition to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the country marked 70 years since the Wansee conference, when Nazi officials planned the extermination of the Jews of Europe.
In addition, this was the week when a government-appointed expert study reported back on the results of an extensive academic study on current levels of anti-Semitism in Germany. The results were not encouraging; one in five people, it revealed, still held anti-Semitic views, with the internet playing a particular role in fostering this phenomenon. The study found that the term “Jew” is commonly used as a pejorative, even by schoolchildren. “There is no comprehensive strategy for fighting anti-Semitism in Germany,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr Juliane Wetzel.
The Germans can comfort themselves with the fact that, according to this study, they are far from the most prejudiced nation in Europe. Portugal, Hungary and Poland are all worse, apparently. And of course anti-Jewish sentiment should be seen in the context of wider xenophobia and racism; prejudice against immigrants and Muslims is a problem across Europe.
But if nearly 70 years of Holocaust education and the banning of Nazi literature have failed to address these views, then continuing to block the publication of Mein Kampf is not going to have much of an effect. Not only is it unenforceable – but it’s a measure whose symbolism has lost all impact.
Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and a former foreign editor of the Jewish Chronicle. She writes widely on Israel and Palestine and is a regular contributor to Ha’aretz