Newspaper article International New York Times

Let Germany Read Hitler

Newspaper article International New York Times

Let Germany Read Hitler

Article excerpt

Keeping Hitler's dreary and often incomprehensible diatribe under wraps is a vast overreaction.

Germany is once again passing through the wringer of its past. At issue this time are not the deeds but the words of Adolf Hitler and the planned republication of his infamous manifesto-as- autobiography, "Mein Kampf," a book that has been officially suppressed in the country since the end of World War II.

But while the prospect of the Fuhrer's words circulating freely on the German market may shock some, it shouldn't. The inoculation of a younger generation against the Nazi bacillus is better served by open confrontation with Hitler's words than by keeping his reviled tract in the shadows of illegality.

Hitler wrote the first draft of his deeply anti-Semitic, race- based ideological screed in 1924, while in prison for leading a failed coup; by the time of his death 21 years later, it had sold 10 million copies.

Since then, although "Mein Kampf" has maintained a shadow presence -- on the back shelves of used bookstores and libraries and, more recently, online -- its copyright holder, the state of Bavaria, has refused to allow its republication, creating an aura of taboo around the book.

All that is about to change. Bavaria's copyright expires at the end of 2015; after that, anyone can publish the book: a quality publisher, a mass-market pulp house, even a neo-Nazi group.

The release of "Mein Kampf" into Germany's cultural bloodstream is sure to be a sensational moment. In a nation that still avidly buys books -- and loves to argue in public -- the book will again ignite painful intergenerational debates on talk shows and in opinion pages about how parents and grandparents let themselves be so blindly misled.

Like the 1996 uproar caused by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's controversial book "Hitler's Willing Executioners," which accused ordinary Germans of being capable of mass-murdering Jews, this publishing event will shape contemporary politics and feed Germany's deep-rooted postwar pacifism. Germany's involvement -- or noninvolvement -- in international crises like Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya and, most recently, Mali is profoundly influenced by such impassioned debates. "Germany is a haunted land, still living in Hitler's shadow," the German Jewish writer Henryk M. Broder told me recently.

Racing to be first to publish the book is the Institute for Contemporary History, a noted center in Munich for the study of Nazism, which has a five-scholar team at work on an annotated "critical edition" of Hitler's 700-page ramble.

The institute's version will double the size of the book and create an academic baseline for all future study of the ur-text of Hitlerism, said the team's leader, Christian Hartmann. The book's extensive notations, he added, will "encircle" Hitler's story line with a "collage" of commentary to demystify and decode it, an alternative subtext and historical context that will strip it of its allegedly hypnotizing power. …

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