How would Heinrich Heine, who bequeathed the bibliophile her favourite aphorism about book-burning eventually leading to burning people, react to the re-publication next month of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (1925) in Germany for the first time since the end of World War II? Heine was both German and Jewish, radically liberal in his youth, and the foremost target of Nazi demonisation. It may not be a loser’s gamble to say Heine would have approved. Besides, proscription has ensured that the 20th century’s most notorious exhortation to hate would only be fetishised, convincing the ignorant that if the authorities deemed it fit to never republish the book, then it must be gold.
When the Allies won the war, they transferred Mein Kampf’s copyright to the state of Bavaria, which decided to bury it. But on December 31, that copyright expires as per German law, putting the book in the public domain. Pre-emptively perhaps, Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History is publishing a critical, annotated edition to “strip away the allure and show the reality”. There have been protests from Jewish organisations and the public, who believe the re-publication is dangerous when European Jews are facing a new wave of anti-Semitism and when Germany is bracing for fresh racial turmoil with the influx of refugees. It’s also argued liberal impulses can’t hold before Hitler and Nazism.
Mein Kampf, despite the annotative demolition of Hitler, will become a must-read for the far-right. Yet, publication is justified. The book is widely available across the world, if not in Germany, and the internet has disseminated countless copies. The annotated edition plans to turn Hitler’s book itself into an anti-Hitler instrument, with the absurdity of the writer’s paranoia (and semi-literacy) exposed. It’s quite likely that the Germans of today would read the thus contextualised book to understand its criminal insanity.