A FURORE has erupted in the German state of Bavaria — which owns copyright in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — over the merits of publishing a new edition of the work for academic use. A reasonable person will find this tome repulsive, and the atrocities it portends and continues to represent can and should never be excused, justified or diminished. But censoring this book is pointless; attempts to do so could cause more harm than good.
Just to be clear: I’m really only writing this piece to share some thoughts on an article I’ve read from The Guardian, and those thoughts in turn represent views I have held about Mein Kampf for almost 25 years.
I have deliberately weighted my anecdotes to my formative years, which — after all — are key to the formulation (or propagation, which seems a better word to describe the objectives of Mein Kampf) of the views and philosophies we all carry with us throughout our adult lives.
I urge readers to peruse the Guardian article through the link I’ve shared, and then come back to me.
My views about this book were crystallised early in 1990, as a first year student at the University of Queensland; as sad an admission as some may find it, I went to the university on class-free days during the first term of my first year purely to explore the political books in the three main libraries on the campus, free of the constraints of timetables or deadlines: hungry to build information and divergent critical opinions onto a passion for politics and an already-formed conservative philosophical outlook, I was like the proverbial kid in a tart shop.
I stumbled across Mein Kampf in the Undergraduate Library by accident, but by virtue of a system that guaranteed I would find it: well aware very quickly that I would have to spend many similar days “exploring” to read even a fraction of the material of what interested me, I ended up scanning the books shelf by shelf, pulling out titles that looked interesting, and making lists of what I would borrow over the course of the year.
It was impossible to miss Mein Kampf: there were, literally, dozens of copies of it.
At the time, I had been (immaturely, hamfistedly and fruitlessly) chasing a girl who was half Polish and half English, and had acquired an acquaintance from two of my four classes (friend was far too strong a word for it) who was a Nazi-sympathising lunatic from a grazing family with links to white South African interests who thought she should be “eliminated” on the basis of mixed race; needless to say, this bloke was given as wide a berth very quickly as I was given by the girl, but out of curiosity, I picked up a copy of Mein Kampf.
It was printed in German (which was no bar in those days, as my German hadn’t yet rusted away) and I saw very quickly that the passage I’d randomly perused was obsessed with concepts such as the purity of race and other xenophobic notions. It also seemed rather excited, rather hysterical, and rather circumlocutory in its approach to its themes: in short, it was a rant.
History — and European history since the 18th century in particular, intertwining as it does with modern politics — has always been a great of interest of mine, and even by the time I was an 18 year old in 1990 I’d read vociferously about diverse subjects ranging from the French Revolution to the Battle of Culloden, and to British socialism during the post-war reconstruction. But even through years of learning German, reading modern history, and scouring local libraries for anything and everything to learn more, I had never seen a copy of that book until I went to the university.
Of course, we all know what happened prior to and during the Second World War; I don’t seek to revisit that episode here. But Hitler’s autobiographical account of his own prejudices and of his hatred of Jewish people in particular — with its attendant call to arms to his own people and to fellow travellers elsewhere — is abhorrent.
Over the years, I have made a lot of Jewish friends; these are people no different in reality to anyone else. They are certainly nothing like the wild, fevered rantings of Hitler imagine them to be. But as a community they rightly refuse to let the memory of the obscenities committed against them by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s die, and it’s here that the point I seek to make today begins to take form.
I made a couple of attempts to read Mein Kampf: I simultaneously found it so vile and so boring as to be unreadable. I never made it past the first fifty pages.
It now apparently seems the Bavarian government planned to issue a reprint of Mein Kampf as a “critical academic edition,” but has sought to backtrack: this is a great pity.
Whilst I understand why Holocaust survivors would complain about the Bavarian crest being included in the proposed academic edition, lest it effectively give sanction to its abominable contents, I can’t agree that that sentiment is well placed; and whilst I understand why the Bavarian government would then seek to backtrack on its plans for republication before its copyright in the work expires, I think to do so would be a mistake.
(Never mind the easy availability of Mein Kampf through other sources, as the attached article notes: this point is, to my mind, a red herring in the overall debate).
World War II was the most destructive human conflict in history; over 80 million people died, and of those more than six million people were Jews slaughtered by the brutal Nazi regime in Germany. Far from hiding the details of the atrocities perpetrated by that merciless junta, they must be taught, passed down, and remembered: there is a reason most civilised countries commemorate their war dead, for example, and the sacrifices their soldiers made. It is the same reason many Jewish events incorporate one kind of commemoration of the Holocaust or another.
It is to ensure people remember — especially those too young to do so, or increasingly those not born at the time — in an endeavour to ensure the same misdeeds can never happen again.
Modern mainstream Germany bears a national shame etched deeply into its psyche; appropriate, perhaps, although it is debatable whether subsequent generations of Germans born in the postwar years should carry any of that guilt. Yet even now, neo-Nazi organisations and adherents of Hitler have existed in Germany for decades, and grow stronger each year; similarly inclined Far Right groups exist across Europe, most notably in France, where the National Front — once confined to the lunatic fringe — has evolved into an increasingly mainstream political movement of the French Right.
It is figures like Hitler, and books like Mein Kampf, that underpin all of these.
Some readers might get a giggle from the story of unrequited love badly mishandled by a belligerent kid. I tell it because the subject of that ill-fated pursuit, for no crime other than being Polish and Catholic, qualified for “elimination” in the eyes of a very intelligent, surprisingly charismatic young adherent of Hitler’s “teachings.” And the guy wasn’t exactly lacking a following, either, despite the stupidity of his views.
To put the example into a more realistic and malignant perspective, look around the world: brutal conflicts in the years since Nazi Germany in the Baltic, the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere — all with race and/or religion at their epicentre — share fundamental common ground with the demented philosophies espoused by Adolf Hitler.
The only difference is the weight of numbers, or the critical mass of people in each instance who subscribed to them, combined with the concerted will to follow through on them. Making that observation in no way diminishes the Holocaust, or denies that it occurred. In fact, it merely adds to the rationale for the determination of Jewish people to ensure it is never forgotten.
It is an almost unrivalled truism that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Censoring books and wishing offensive history out of existence will not make it go away; on the contrary, it will simply embolden those who find such repugnant material inviting, and remove an important barrier to restraining the weak, and the impressionable, and the gullible, and the stupid.
This post makes no pretensions to be an analysis of any intellectual rigour whatsoever: on the contrary, and as I said at the outset, these are purely personal thoughts with a skew to late adolescence and early adulthood, and some ties to the personal relevance those years connect to a deep aversion to fruit cakes like Adolf Hitler and his so-called “teachings” that was already well formed.
Mein Kampf is an odious, evil book, and the ideas that lie within its pages are truly noxious and offensive.
But trying to stop people accessing it and reading it won’t achieve anything; in fact, the sin of omission is sometimes the worst sin of all, and driving evil sentiment underground will only legitimise it: especially for those seeking a cause in a misguided — and mistaken — quest for legitimacy.