It’s a legal literary quandary with no easy answer and a troubled past.
In less than two months’ time, the copyright of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf will expire, sending it to the public domain to be used and printed by anyone and everyone. This has sparked contentious debate in Germany, which was handed the copyright by Allied forces following the end of World War II. For the past seventy years the government of the German state of Bavaria has refused to allow the manifesto to be republished in any form as a means of paying respect to the victims of Hitler’s Holocaust.
By not allowing the book to be republished in any form, Germany has banned the book in a roundabout way without infringing on freedom of speech or the press, two things which the current German republic has enshrined and protected many times.
But for now, like it or not, Mein Kampf is set to re-emerge next year. This has prompted scholars from around the nation to petition the government to revoke the current ban and instead allow the 800-page book to be published as is or even, as is the case with historians at the Institute of Contemporary History of Munich (otherwise known as the IFZ), as part of an annotated text designed to “deconstruct and put into context Hitler’s writing.” The IFZ has announced that this version of Mein Kampf, which will be composed of two separate volumes dedicated to the work, will debut in January provided the ban is not renewed.
Wary of any negative consequences associated with Hitler’s jail cell manifesto, many in the German Jewish community have been pleading to Bavarian and German federal officials to renew the ban, saying that even an annotated version is dangerous and likely to have unintended consequences in the minds of readers. As Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Jewish community in Munich and Upper Bavaria put it: “One does not know what’s going on within the reader’s mind. It is the ideological basis of the mass, industrial extermination of the Jewish people. It paved the way for the Holocaust.”
It is constantly said that those who do not learn their own history are doomed to repeat it. And to support this, Hitler’s foolhardy invasion of Russia after Napoleon’s own failed and damning attempt at that same task a century earlier proves to be a powerful example. And to be fair, it should be mentioned Germany is not ignoring their history outright; indeed denying the Holocaust’s existence is a crime and German history is taught in schools.
Many nations have pasts as troubled as Germany’s. Many other Western industrialized democratic nations have skeletons in their closets they do not like to talk about. The United States is one of them. Generations of enslaving African-Americans followed by generations of segregation and abuse once they were finally free; racially motivated forced relocation of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor; decades of ignoring the rights of homosexuals and preventing them from being who they are; these are America’s sins. There comes a point in every nation’s development where these atrocities need to be addressed and acknowledged and talked about so society can truly heal. Mein Kampf’s copyright expiring is more than just the reintroduction of troubled literature. It is a chance for Germany to face its past in a new way and heal old wounds in a new way. But whether the country is ready and willing for that is open to question, and the government’s actions and reasoning remain to be seen.
by Corey Fischer