Should Germans be able to buy copies of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in German in Germany?
Usually this time of year, my thoughts turn to German men, as in: Should they be allowed to wear socks with sandals and short shorts (in public, outside Germany).
As it happens, “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), first published in 1925, contains the Fuhrer’s thoughts on casual wear, and so much else. You’d need a thousand years and a vat of Adderall to get through all of it, though I did my best over a long weekend.
I read the 1943 translation by Ralph Manheim (who implored readers not to blame him for Hitler’s clumsy phrasing, and eventually recovered to translate Gunther Grass’s “Tin Drum”), but German copies are readily available on the Internet where the Fuhrer’s popularity is up there with Jesus and Napoleon.
Anyone who wants to read “Mein Kampf” can do so in a variety of languages, including Arabic, Swedish and Russian, which makes the current bout of brow-knitting in Germany strange to observe.
When, after the war, the state of Bavaria inherited the publishing empire of Hitler’s one-armed henchman, Max Amann, it banned any new printings.
Now the copyright is elapsing 65 years after Hitler’s suicide in the bunker.
What to do? This being Germany with its bad history, penchant for deep thinking and government hand-outs, an annotated edition funded at 500,000 euros ($671,400) was ordered up from a team of academics at Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History.
By Dec. 31, 2015, they expect to be done illuminating this inconceivably tedious book, though that doesn’t mean the “Mein Kampf” will be sold in Germany’s bookstores (they still have them).
Just last month, the justice ministers of Germany’s 16 Lander, in a meeting at the beach resort of Rugen (once a popular Nazi destination), decided that “Mein Kampf” would continue to be banned in Germany, leaving open the fate of the academic edition.
A narcissistic sense of importance and outrage animates every clotted line.
Having soldiered in the trenches, Hitler found it incredible that Germany had lost the war even so.
As he blames Jews and Communists for the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, you glimpse the future Hitler fulminating, spot lit, on the stage at Nuremberg’s parade grounds.
Lebensraum is another favorite topic. The new German Reich will need most of Europe, minus some of the people already there.
Hitler dictated “Mein Kampf” to the soft-headed Rudolf Hess at Landsberg prison, where both resided for a while in great comfort after the failed beer-hall putsch of 1923.
Winifred, the adoring daughter-in-law of his favorite composer, Richard Wagner, provided the paper. Other admirers shipped in Champagne, platters of sausages and cakes until the future Fuhrer’s lodging looked like a hotel suite and his waistband expanded.
Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, a Harvard-educated publicist who would write a memoir from the safety of the U.S., suggested he get some exercise. Hitler demurred. It would be bad for his image. Between them was a large Westphalian ham.
What a scene. Fueled by Linzer tarts, he would pace his pleasant cell (landscape view), dictating his dreams of mass murder and thoughts on Aryan attire to the Champagne-sipping Hess.
“The boy who in summer runs around in long stovepipe trousers, and covered up to the neck, loses through his clothing alone a stimulus for his physical training. For we must exploit ambition and, we may as well calmly admit it, vanity as well. Not vanity about fine clothes which everyone cannot buy, but vanity about a beautiful, well-formed body which everyone can help to build.
“If physical beauty were today not forced entirely into the background by our foppish fashion, the seduction of hundreds of thousands of girls by bow-legged, repulsive Jewish bastards would not be possible.”
As so often, it is impossible to follow the man’s logic. Now why would Germany’s tressed maidens prefer Old Testament ogres to young Aryans in pants?
A few photographs exist of a young Hitler dressed in lederhosen and heavy socks (and shoes) striking a gruffly seductive pose. These were quickly verboten during his lifetime in favor of uniforms and double-breasted suits, even around the swimming pool on the terrace of his alpine chalet in Berchtesgaden.
When Hitler became chancellor, “Mein Kampf” made him rich. Germans got a copy with their marriage license. My Baltic grandmother, who shared Hitler’s birthday (April 20), used to get so many as presents, she would burn a few piles every winter, only to get a new supply every spring.
Did anyone ever really read “Mein Kampf”?
Try this: “Without doubt the productivity of the soil can be increased up to a certain limit. But only to a certain limit, and not continuously without end. For a certain time it will be possible to compensate for the increase of the German people without having to think of hunger, by increasing the productivity of our soil.”
Would you think this cretin would be chancellor in nine years?
More to the point, would you want to read this today -- in any language?
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is an executive editor for art at Bloomberg News. All opinions are her own.)