MUNICH – An annotated edition of "Mein Kampf," the first version of Adolf Hitler's notorious manifesto to be published in Germany since the end of World War II, went on sale Friday in an effort to demystify the book and debunk the Nazi leader's writing.
The Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History worked for several years on the plain-covered volume, officially titled "Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition." It launched the book days after the copyright of the German-language original expired at the end of 2015 — 70 years after Hitler's death.
Over the years, Bavaria's state finance ministry had used its copyright on the book to prevent the publication of new editions. The book wasn't banned in Germany, though, and could be found online, in secondhand bookshops and in libraries.
The new edition is 1,948 pages, roughly double the original, and sets Hitler's text amid extensive comments by historians that are meant to contradict and deflate his writing.
The new edition "sets out as far as possible Hitler's sources, which were deeply rooted in the German racist tradition of the late 19th century," said Andreas Wirsching, the Munich institute's director. "This edition exposes the false information spread by Hitler, his downright lies and his many half-truths, which aimed at a pure propaganda effect."
Hitler wrote "Mein Kampf" — or "My Struggle" — after he was jailed following the failed 1923 coup attempt known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The rambling tome set out his ultranationalist, anti-Semitic and anti-communist ideology, which would culminate in the Holocaust and a war of conquest in Europe. It is considered an important source for understanding the history of the Nazi regime.
"The problem with this book is that it isn't just a historical source — it's also a symbol," said Christian Hartmann, who led the team putting together the annotated edition. "And our idea was to lay bare this symbol once and for all."
Millions of copies were printed after the Nazis took power in 1933, and it was published after the war in several other countries.
"At a time when the well-known formulae of far-right xenophobia are threatening to become ... socially acceptable again in Europe, it is necessary to research and critically present the appalling driving forces of National Socialism and its deadly racism," Wirsching said.
German authorities have made clear that they won't tolerate any new editions without commentary, though none is known to be in the works. Incitement laws are likely to be used against any such publications.
Germany's main Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews, said it has no objections to the critical edition but strongly supports ongoing efforts to prevent any new "Mein Kampf" without annotations. Its president, Josef Schuster, said he hopes the critical edition will "contribute to debunking Hitler's inhuman ideology and counteracting anti-Semitism."
Jewish opinion has been divided, however. One of Schuster's predecessors, Charlotte Knobloch, has said she worries the new edition will simply awaken interest in the original, not the commentary.
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, said it's right to study the book, but he underlined his opposition to a new edition.
"I don't see the need for a critical edition," he said. "Unlike other works that truly deserve to be republished as annotated editions, 'Mein Kampf' does not. Already, academics, historians and the wider public have easy access to this text."
German authorities are broadly supportive of the annotated edition.
"I think one shouldn't pretend the book doesn't exist," Education Minister Johanna Wanka told n-tv television. "Such taboos can sometimes be counterproductive. It's important that people who want to debunk this book have the appropriate material."
Ian Kershaw, a Briton who is a leading biographer of Hitler, joined Friday's book presentation and said it was "high time for a rigorously academic edition of 'Mein Kampf'" to be made available.
"For years, I have considered the lifting of the ban on publication long overdue," Kershaw said. "Censorship is almost always pointless in the long term in a free society and only contributes to creating a negative myth, making a forbidden text more mysterious and awakening an inevitable fascination with the inaccessible."
Michael Lemling, the manager of the Lehmkuhl bookshop in Munich, said "Mein Kampf" was "probably the worst thing we've ever had here — the text is anti-Semitic, racist and militarist."
However, he said it was important to him to stock the annotated edition — priced at 59 euros ($64) — because "it takes apart all Hitler's lies, propaganda tricks and rhetorical tricks with 3,500 footnotes, so that in the end not much is left of them."