Should 'Mein Kampf' be re-published?

Yad Vashem demands annotations accompany any new version of book.

Mein Kampf224,88 (photo credit: )
Mein Kampf224,88
(photo credit: )
The possibility of publishing Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf with a modern commentary has elicited mixed reactions in Israel, after a prominent member of Berlin's Jewish community came out in favor of the idea this week. Lala Suesskind, chairwoman of the Jewish community in the German capital, said on Sunday that reprinting the once-banned text would no longer break any taboos. "The text opens the eyes of many people to Hitler's intentions and provides evidence for what should have been known at the time," Suesskind told the German news agency, DPA. Stephan Kramer, general secretary of Germany's Central Council of Jews, told German radio that he too supported the publication of the 1925 book, but it needed commentary. Holocaust memorial institutions in Israel weren't so eager to acquiesce. "In my opinion, there's no need to republish the book, even for educational purposes," said Aya Ben-Naftali, a spokeswoman from Massuah, the Institute for the Study of the Holocaust. "There isn't a history student in the world that doesn't already have access to Mein Kampf, and it's been that way for years. The text is there for those who want to research it." Ben-Naftali explained that a mass publication of the book is unnecessary and even dangerous. "The people that will buy the book are the same people that buy the Protocols of the Elders of Zion - they're not looking for a historical understanding. Anti-Semitism, real, authentic anti-Semitism exists just under the surface, and there's no need to strengthen it. In my opinion, republishing the book will only cause neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism to increase." Despite those fears, the book's copyright is due to expire in 2015, a fact that has set off a great debate, both in German-Jewish circles and within the larger German public, as to what exactly should be done with the text. After Hitler's death in 1945, the Bavarian government obtained the book's rights as part of the Allied "de-Nazification" program. Since then, the book has remained outlawed in Germany, along with the swastika and the stiff-armed Nazi salute. But from the millions of copies disseminated before and during World War II, the book has been republished worldwide and translated into dozens of languages. Mein Kampf was a national bestseller when it hit stores in Turkey in 2005 before being banned, and the Arabic translation still enjoys tremendous popularity in the Arab and Muslim world. An abridged Hebrew version of the text was quietly published in Israel in 1992, for use among Israeli students of German history. Still, those in favor of republishing it with annotation, say that if they don't do it, German neo-Nazi groups and others - who would exclude the modern commentary - will. "If Mein Kampf reached the public in Germany without commentary, that would be a problem," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel. "Even if it's presented with an explanation, those who want to ignore that explanation could just stick to the text. The best thing to do would be to continue the ban in Germany, but I understand that this current situation can't continue forever, and [the German government] will have to choose what they want to do with it," he said. Zuroff believed an annotated version, showing where history has proven the text wrong, and where Hitler's policies proved disastrous, would be the best option if the book were to be officially republished. "Two hundred thousand American soldiers died fighting the Nazis," Zuroff said. "Twenty million Russians died. It is incredibly important that these facts be included in any sort of annotation because it's the only way to rob the book of its ability to cause racism and xenophobia." Yad Vashem echoed Zuroff's sentiments, pointing to the necessity of a historical commentary to accompany the text. "Yad Vashem doesn't see a problem with serious historians publishing an annotated version because it is already available online and elsewhere [without the commentary]," said spokeswoman Estee Yaari. As far as using the text as an educational tool, however, Yaari was less forthcoming. "We would have to see what it says before we could make that decision," she said. Regardless, the debate over the book's future will most likely intensify as the copyright expiration draws closer, and the German government, who has taken great pains to distance itself from its Nazi past, will be forced to make a decision.