The publication and sale of Mein Kampf has been forbidden in Germany since the end of the Second World War, but with its copyright expiring in 2015, the Bavarian government plans its own version to limit its appeal to neo-Nazis.
Bavaria's bid to stop publishers profiting in annotated version of Hitler's Mein Kampf
BERLIN // Ever since the end of the Second World War, Germany has tried to prevent its citizens from reading Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the rambling Nazi manifesto in which Adolf Hitler screams out his vision of Aryan world domination.
The Bavarian government, which owns the copyright to the book, has forbidden its publication and sale in Germany to stop the ideology spreading and as a mark of respect to the millions of victims of Nazi Germany.
But with the copyright due to expire at the end of 2015, 70 years after Hitler's death, Bavaria announced last week it will publish its own, annotated version of the book to deter commercial publishers from seeking to make profits with it after that date, and to limit its appeal to neo-Nazis.
The state also is planning a version for schools, with notes that are easy for young people to understand. An English version and an audio book are also planned.
"The expiration of the copyright in three years' time could lead to more young people reading Mein Kampf," the Bavarian finance minister, Markus Soder, said last week. The scientific notes on the text would outline "the global catastrophe that this dangerous ideology led to", Mr Soder said.
Critics have long said that Bavaria's strict stance was anachronistic, given that it can be read on the internet and is readily available outside Germany, in English and other languages.
Today, Hitler's thinking is utterly discredited among the vast majority of people in Germany. The nation has won praise for confronting its Nazi past and instilling a sense of collective moral responsibility for the Holocaust in the post-Hitler generations.
"The Germans haven't been trusted to deal with this in a mature way, but everyone else has been able to read it." said Horst Pöttker, a historian. "The whole world can read the book."
But Bavaria has enforced its ban strictly. This year, it threatened legal action against Peter McGee, a British publisher, and forced him to remove excerpts of Mein Kampf from a magazine supplement that went on sale in Germany.
Mr McGee, who has reprinted excerpts from vintage Nazi newspapers in recent years, said he wanted Germans to have access to the book so they could judge its content for themselves.
Karl Freller, director of a Bavarian foundation that administers the memorials at the former Nazi concentration camps Dachau and Flossenbürg, said the state would ask publishing houses and bookstores to avoid rival versions of the book after 2015.
"We are relying on them to voluntarily refrain from selling or printing Mein Kampf and choosing to offer the new academic edition instead," Mr Freller said.
In 1945, the copyright fell into the hands of the Bavaria government when the state took over the rights of the main Nazi party publishing house, Eher-Verlag, as part of the Allies' de-Nazification programme.
Hitler began writing Mein Kampf in 1924, while serving a prison sentence for attempting to stage a coup in Munich in November 1923, known as the Beer Hall Putsch. He became chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Mein Kampf was first published in 1925 and some 10 million copies had been sold by 1945. After Hitler came to power in 1933, it was handed out to wedding couples instead of the Bible, as a gift from the Nazi state. Second-hand copies were banned from being resold, to maximise the führer's royalties.
In the partly autobiographical, racist tome, Hitler sought to rally nationalists against the Jews as the common enemy and underscored his claim to lead the National Socialist movement, and the German race, to greatness.
The chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, welcomed Bavaria's decision, saying an annotated version was preferable to having publishers try to make profits from it.
"I think it is a good contribution towards showing responsibility and I think the state of Bavaria deserves our support here," Mr Graumann said last week.
Rafael Seligmann, a Jewish author and journalist, said: "Germany is democratic and mature enough to form its own picture of Hitler's book."