2015 will see the expiration of the copyright for Adolf Hitler’s controversial memoir “Mein Kampf”. Written while he was in prison for trying to overthrow the Bavarian government in the early 1920s, Hitler’s book outlines some of his key political ideas, including his strong antisemitic sentiments which led to the Holocaust. Understandably a bestseller in the years of Nazi rule, the book was effectively banned after the Second World War. The state of Bavaria holds the rights and stopped all efforts to re-issue the text in German. This has now changed and a commented edition has been published. In an interview with Spiegel Online International Christian Hartmann, the project leader, talks about the controversial decision to produce this scholarly edition of a text which might still inspire racial hatred and encourage Nazi ideas in today’s readers.
For decades the book was not publicly available in Germany. After the war it was feared that its influence on impressionable young people and unrepenting old Nazi supporters posed a threat to the new German republic. In the decades to follow, most people who had access to the book had most likely come across it in their grandparents’ attic. In the 1930s a copy of “Mein Kampf” was a popular wedding gift and many copies of the book had survived the transition into democracy, stashed away behind old curtains and Christmas decorations.
Never a good read, this vitriolic polemic written in longwinded bad prose was mystified and made strangely attractive by the fact that it was not publicly available. That changed around the turn of the millennium when internet trading started and young neo-nazis could order English translations of “Mein Kampf” from amazon.com. Soon it could also be downloaded as an e-book. German authorities were not pleased but powerless.
Outside of Germany the book had always been freely available and there is a surprisingly large number of translations. In English alone, there are more than a dozen different renditions. The analyis of these translations was the focus of a PhD thesis written at Aston University and published as a monograph in 2009. Stefan Baumgarten, now Lecturer in German at Bangor University, analyses in his study the translation processes linked to this politically sensitive text and explores the complexities of power relations and ideological management involved in the production of translations.