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Sales of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ Skyrocketing in Germany — But It’s Not Why You Think

Germans are flocking to buy Hitler’s screed. But they’re doing so to learn about Germany’s past, not replicate it.

By Robbie Gramer, a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.

Demand for Hitler’s rambling, anti-Semitic 1925 manifesto, until last year banned in Germany, has skyrocketed in the past year. A 70-year copyright on Mein Kampf expired in January, 2016, which is when a new edition hit German shelves for the first time since the end of World  War II. Some 85,000 copies of the new edition have sold since then. The publisher, the Institute of Contemporary History of Munich (IfZ), said the sixth print run will hit shelves later this month to keep pace with rising demand.

The new edition’s popularity took IfZ by surprise. The sales figures “overwhelmed us,” said IfZ director Andreas Wirsching. But, IfZ says, history buffs and not neo-Nazis are fueling the sales.

“By and large it appears to be customers who are generally interested in politics and history, as well as people who are active in political education, such as teachers,” IfZ said in a statement.

“It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology, or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform, was totally unfounded,” Wirsching told Agence France Presse.

The new edition, at 2,000 pages, is heavily annotated by historians. Nazi-era editions of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) were plastered with pictures of Hitler and Nazi symbols such as the swastika, but the new edition has a simple white cover. (Prominent Nazi symbols are still banned in Germany, even 72 years after the end of World War II). Nearly 12 million copies of the antisemitic manifesto sold during the rise and fall of the Third Reich between 1933 to 1945.

After the war, the state of Bavaria secured the copyright to Mein Kampf and kept a tight lid on its reprinting and distribution. But when that copyright expired this year, IfZ decided to publish the new edition.

The initial decision to reprint Mein Kampf drew controversy in Germany, still grappling with its painful past. Some feared the distribution of the book could re-energize small Neo-nazi movements. Others saw historical value in redistributing the book under strict guidance.

“We do not object to a critical edition, contrasting Hitler’s racial theories with scientific findings, to be at the disposal of research and teaching,” German Jewish leader Josef Schuster said in 2015 before the copyright’s expiration. Germany’s minister of education, Johanna Wanka, also defended the decision to reprint the book, saying the new, annotated edition would ensure “Hitler’s comments do not remain unchallenged”.

“Any Hitler sympathizers who might be interested in the book are better off looking elsewhere,” Wirsching added at the time.

In the year since its initial reprint, Europe has seen the rise of far-right and anti-immigrant political parties, including the Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany and Freedom Party in Austria — which narrowly missed a presidential victory in December that would have given Europe its first far-right president since the end of World War II. Such parties have thus far refrained from citing Mein Kampf or lifting Hitler’s ideology directly.

What’s more, Wirsching thinks the new edition and its surprising popularity could be a valuable hedge against contemporary far-right political sentiments in Europe.

“The debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and right wing slogans are gaining ground,” Wirsching said.

Photo credit: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer