(photo credit: AP [file])
The Dutch education minister quickly backtracked Wednesday after suggesting in an interview the country might lift its ban on "Mein Kampf," Adolf Hitler's autobiography and Nazi manifesto.
The book may not be legally printed and sold in some European countries including Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and France, though there are some exceptions and annotated scholarly editions are available in libraries.
However, it is sold freely in Britain, the United States, Italy and other countries, and is available on countless Internet sites.
"Maybe we should just stop with it, forbidding 'Mein Kampf,"' Ronald Plasterk told magazine Hollands Diep. "Just let it be freely available."
Jewish groups and parliamentarians criticized the remark.
"In recent history millions of people have died because of the ideology described in 'Mein Kampf,"' Sybrand van Haersma Buma of the center-right Christian Democrat party said in response. Plasterk "is hurting a lot of people with this remark."
Plasterk, a member of the center-left Labor Party, was responding to calls last month by far-right member of parliament Geert Wilders to ban the Quran "the same way we ban 'Mein Kampf."' Wilders said both books contain passages that contradict Western values.
Wilders faced a torrent of criticism for comparing the two books.
Education minister Plasterk made his remarks in the broader context of disagreeing with Wilders. But he added he thought it was "strange" there was a special status for "Mein Kampf" when so many books of historical interest that can be seen as offensive or identified with suffering - including Mao Tse-Tung's "Little Red Book" - are allowed.
"It was totally not my intention to hurt people, and I don't have any concrete plans to change the policy now," Plasterk told state broadcaster NOS news later Wednesday.
"But I can imagine that at a certain moment - not during this administration - that we say, 'Let everyone be aware of the madness that was written down there in that way."'
It's not clear what will happen to the printing ban in European countries when the copyright to the German original, currently held by the state of Bavaria, expires in 2015.