Author speaks about critical edition of Mein Kampf

When Othmar Ploeckinger, a scholar who studies the early Nazi movement, first started working on the critical edition of “Mein Kampf” he did not think that the ideas in the book would once again be relevant. Now, with the rise of right wing activism around the world, the author came to Brandeis to discuss the edition and its importance.

“Mein Kampf” (German for “my struggle”) is an autobiographical book written by Adolf Hitler while he was imprisoned for the attempted coup commonly known as the “Beer Hall Putsch” in Munich in November 1923. The book describes the process by which Hitler became anti-semitic and outlines his political ideology and future plans for Germany. The book became a bestseller in Germany after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933.

The copyright to the book, after Hitler’s death, was given to the state government of Bavaria. Throughout the 70 years that the state held the copyright, it refused to allow any copying or printing of the book in Germany. In 2015, the copyright expired, and the book was once again published in Germany, which sparked controversy and ethical debate on whether the book should be allowed to be spread. Although many believe that the book is banned in many nations, according to the magazine the Atlantic, there are only four: Austria, Luxembourg, Russia and Romania. Ploeckinger said that there are many ethical questions surrounding the book, as it represents Nazi values and their actions.

The authors structured the critical edition by providing explanatory introductions to each individual chapter and adding over 3,500 annotations to the original text. They also try to give readers more background to the events described in the book, objective information on persons and events described, clarification of central ideological concepts and disclosure of the source materials Hitler used. Their additions to the book also include an explanation of the roots of various concepts in the history of ideas, contextualization of aspects contemporaneous to the text, as well as the correction of errors and one-sided accounts.

The authors believe that the book is an important historical and political document, which can give insights to some of humanity’s darkest times. When discussing the importance of the book Ploeckinger described it as “a book related to the past but is coming back today.” When asked whether the authors tried to connect the book to current events, Ploeckinger said that when they first started working on the book, they did not know what the world would look like when the book came out. However, they did want people to rethink what they were saying, and about what comes out of radical speech.

Ploeckinger also pointed out that translators impact how the book is read because of the tone and language used. Interpretations can be biased because of the tone and the political views of the translators. Which is why they believed that it was important to have a book which tries to be as unbiased as possible, and explained so everyone can understand it, not only people with a background on the subject.

The critical edition of “Mein Kampf” received praise from experts in the field: over 100,000 copies have been sold thus far. The event was sponsored by the Center for German and European Studies (CGES).

Menu Title