Mein Kampf: Not banned, but prohibited.

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While we’re on the subject of banned books:

THIS BOOK IS ILLEGAL! Well, not exactly. But it does carry prohibitions in many European countries.mein kampf

This is a presentation copy of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) by Adolf Hitler. This particular volume is part of the 1939 edition, published in Munich, which had a total run of 14,000 leather-bound copies (a little over 10,000 were sold). It was produced to commemorate Der Fuhrer’s 50th birthday. It was probably a “bring back” souvenir following World War II, and current retail value in this condition is between $250 and $300.

The copy pictured here happened to walk in the door of The York Emporium earlier this week, buried and dusty, amid several boxes of otherwise forgettable tomes from the 1940s & 1950s.

This a copy of the special edition, known as the Jubiläumsausgabe, or “Anniversary Issue”. It came in both dark blue and bright red boards with a gold sword on the cover. It was considered a deluxe version, relative to the smaller and more common Volksausgabe. What increases its value in the U.S. is that it is printed in the German Old Style type (“fractur”) and it is a relic, if you will, of the War.

Mein Kampf, of course, is a book written by Hitler while in prison. He dictated (no pun intended) the work to his secretary Rudolf Hess. It is his autobiography, his political philosophy, and his plans for the future of Germany.

Wildly anti-Semitic, and not a very good read, it was first published in 1925 with an intended audience of his newly-formed National Socialist (Nazi) political party. It was wildly ignored at the time.

The book grew in popularity during the next several years, and by the time he came to power, in 1933, sales had increased to some 240,000 copies (a pretty big number in depression-era Germany). It is reported that his tax debt from royalties exceeded $1.5-million in today’s dollars (this debt was somehow forgiven when he became Chancellor).

By the start of the War, of course, Hitler was a bona fide BIG DEAL, and the book went into huge circulation. Copies were given to couples on their wedding day and given to troops on active duty. It was a popular gift for birthdays and anniversaries.

Following the surrender, not so much.

In fact, it was illegal to own a copy in much of Europe. Even today, should you try to buy it through amazon.com, you will be met with a prohibition: “This is a US/Canada only edition and shall/must only be sold in US/Canada. This edition should not be sold outside of US/Canada/New Zealand/South Africa/Japan.”

The prohibition is largely symbolic. Editions abound in a number of languages as digital files for e-readers, and in PDF format. Once it is online, it cannot really be taken back.

At the time of his suicide, Hitler’s official place of residence was in Munich, which led to his entire estate, including all rights to Mein Kampf, changing to the ownership of the state of Bavaria. As per German copyright law, the entire text is scheduled to enter the public domain on January 1, 2016; 70 years after the author’s death. The government of Bavaria refuses to allow any copying or printing of the book in Germany, and opposes it also in other countries…but with less success.

Actually, owning and buying the book is legal. Trading in old copies is legal as well, unless it is done in such a fashion as to “promote hatred or war”, which is generally illegal. Most German libraries carry heavily commented and excerpted versions of Mein Kampf. In 2008, Stephan Kramer, secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, not only recommended lifting the ban, but volunteered the help of his organization in editing and annotating the text, saying that it is time for the book to be made available to all online.

Part of the irony of all this is that Hitler himself tried to distance himself from the book shortly after he came to power, calling it “fantasies behind bars.” He said that, “If I had had any idea in 1924 that I would have become Reich chancellor, I never would have written the book.”

So, technically, the book isn’t banned. But it is prohibited. It can be printed in German, but it cannot be printed in Germany (until next year) without violating copyright laws. You can also download a free copy from numerous sites online.

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