French call for new warning as Mein Kampf copyright expires
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As the copyright restriction on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is lifted on January 1, 2016, French lawyers have called for a new compulsory introduction explaining its historical context to the book, which can now be legally published by anyone.
In France, Mein Kampf was never banned by the French authorities (although, ironically, it was prohibited during the war by the Nazi occupiers because it painted the French in such a bad light).
Publishing house Les Nouvelles Editions Latines, which has owned the copyright to the French translation since 1934, has been the only French publisher to sell the book in France until now. Since 1979 it has come with a court-imposed eight-page explanatory introduction.
With the lifting of the copyright restriction, rival publisher Editions Fayard has prepared a new annotated translation that will hit bookshelves in the coming weeks.
French lawyer Philippe Coen, president of European Company Lawyers Association and founder of the Paris-based Hate Prevention Initiative, is pushing for a new introduction, explaining the historical context of Mein Kampf to new readers, to be translated into five languages including Arabic.
The introduction, he hopes, would become an integral part of all copyright-Free Mein Kampf published in France.
Mein Kampf sets out two of Hitler’s core ideas which he put into practice when he became German leader and triggered World War II, namely annexing neighbouring countries to gain “lebensraum” (living space) for German-speaking people; and his hatred of Jews, that led to the Holocaust. More than 12 million copies were published in Germany up until 1945.
The book remains controversial despite the passing of time and the copyright of the Nazi leader’s only published work, written while in prison between 1924 and 1925, has been the property of the state of Bavaria since his death in April 1945. Bavaria has prevented the publication of the book in Germany for the last 70 years.
However, with the lifting of the copyright, the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich will be selling Hitler’s book as of January 1.
FRANCE 24: Why is Mein Kampf still so controversial 70 years after Hitler’s death?
Philippe Coen: There is a lot of misleading mythology surrounding Mein Kampf, a book that provokes often illogical reactions, many of which are quite wrong.
Many believe the book outlines plans for the Holocaust, which is not true. Mein Kampf does catalogue Hitler’s abhorrence and rejection (of European Jewry) but it doesn’t propose a “solution” in the way that the 1942 Wannsee Conference (where Nazi leaders decided to implement the mass murder of the “Final Solution”) did.
There is also a misconception that right now the book is universally banned, which is also not true. There are only five countries where Mein Kampf has been officially proscribed: Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Russia and Romania.
Unfortunately, Mein Kampf has been the inspiration for other texts written to incite racial hatred. Hitler’s racist logic was used by Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik in 2011.
Hitler’s arguments were also borrowed to justify mass murder by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, by Serbia during the Balkan Wars of the early 1990s and in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. More recently, “The Management of Savagery”, the so-called “Mein Kampf” of Islamist groups (published in 2004), is easily found online.
FRANCE 24: But you don’t believe that banning the book is the right response…
Philippe Coen: The more you prohibit something, the greater its appeal. Banning the book would be counter-productive. Conspiracy theories flourish overnight on the Internet and any move to ban the sale of Mein Kampf would get some people thinking: “If it’s banned, then it must all be true.”
In any case, the book can be easily found online and downloaded free, and is an enduring best-seller in countries such as India, Indonesia and across the Middle East.
In 1979 the Paris Appeal Court authorised its publication and sale in France, with the proviso that it included a court-mandated explanatory introduction.
We want our updated introduction to be included in the book, translated into five languages, not least in Arabic because the book has been used extensively in the Middle East to drum up anti-Israel sentiment.
Mein Kampf is an important historical document and it should not be erased or forgotten, but it remains important to explain clearly what this work set out to achieve.
A modern reader in Europe who is not indoctrinated in anti-Semitism will see straight through it and is unlikely to be influenced by Hitler’s ideas.
However, in countries where there has been little or no education on the realities of the Second World War, this book becomes much more problematic.
In India, for example, Mein Kampf can be bought in newspaper kiosks and bookshops across the country.
Its success isn’t linked to anti-Semitism. But the country’s leaders, including the current prime minister, have actually pointed out the value of this work if you replace the word “Jew” with “Muslim”. There is a theory in India that within Mein Kampf there are answers to all the country’s problems. It sends a shiver up my spine.
FRANCE 24: You are also publishing a separate book: “Putting Mein Kampf behind us” [Pour en finir avec Mein Kampf]…
Philippe Coen: We are releasing this book on the first of January to explain Mein Kampf’s success in the 1930s and 40s.
It is aimed at helping those reading Hitler’s book for the first time, who may not know anything about this period in history and could be inspired by his ideas, that it is now 70 years since the end of World War II, and that we have to use this moment to free ourselves of a historical hatred that has echoes in the modern world.