Few would have imagined that Adolf Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kampf” would again become a bestseller in the 21st century. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this year with the expiration of a German state copyright that had been used to prohibit reprinting of the book.
On Saturday, “Mein Kampf” became even more widely accessible in Europe. The Italian newspaper Il Giornale distributed copies of the book to readers of its Saturday edition – a decision that drew heavy criticism from Jewish groups in the country.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Renzo Gattegna, as saying: “The free distribution … is a squalid fact that is light years away from all logic of studying the Shoah and the different factors that led the whole of humanity to sink into an abyss of unending hatred, death and violence.”
“It must be stated clearly: The Giornale’s operation is indecent,” Gattegna said Friday, on the announcement of the paper’s decision.
But the center-right daily, which is owned by the family of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, says its version of the text was annotated by an Italian historian and was distributed with the goal of preventing the mistakes of the past from being repeated.
As for the controversy, Alessandro Sallusti, the paper’s director, in an editorial said that most of the discussions related to the publication were “legitimate and understandable.”
“The worries of our friends within the Italian Jewish community, who have always seen us as unconditional allies, deserve all our respect,” Sallusti wrote.
However, he also said that he strongly disagreed with those saying the paper published the autobiography with an”apologetic intention.” Critics had previously argued that the newspaper might have distributed the book in an attempt to underplay Hitler’s crimes.
Sallusti strongly refuted such allegations, saying:”Let’s not take advantage of such a tragedy.”
“Because with certain winds that blow here and there in Europe and in the Middle East it is necessary to understand what shapes the evil can take — in order not to repeat a fatal mistake,” Sallusti wrote, referring to Hitler’s rise to power.
“Mein Kampf” has been available in German bookstores since January – but only in an annotated version that is supposed to point out inconsistencies and lies in Hitler’s arguments. There are more than 3,000 additional comments in that version.
According to German law, publishing the book without annotations would be considered seditious. But that is what right-wing publishing company Schelm is now planning to do. Prosecutors are investigating the plans and could file charges even before the book gets published.
“This book is too dangerous for the general public,” library historian Florian Sepp told The Washington Post last year, reflecting a sentiment among several German experts on that research field.
The publisher argues that an unannotated version of Hitler’s autobiography would serve as historical documentation – but researchers object, saying that the annotated edition is fully sufficient.
If published, the unannotated book would primarily have to be sold online, as most German bookstore chains would likely refuse to put it on their shelves.
The majority of German bookstores had ordered only a handful of copies of the annotated version in January, despite massive interest among readers, which later made it a bestseller within weeks.