Mein Kampf was first published 95 years ago. Hitler did not want to know him later

On November 8, 1923, a meeting of representatives of the Bavarian elites was held at the Bürgerbräukeller brewery in Munich to mark the fifth anniversary of the German Revolution. The main speech was to be given by the Bavarian General Commissioner of State and former Prime Minister Gustav von Kahr. The pub was filled with members of the Bavarian People’s Union, and high-ranking government officials appeared among the participants in the assembly.

With a pint glass and a pistol

There were also a number of members of the not very important Nazi party in the hall, whose leadership was recently taken over by the ambitious street speaker Adolf Hitler. He gained the attention of the general public with his fiery speeches, in which he proclaimed the overthrow of the German Republic, the fight against international capital and the denunciation of the peace treaty, forcing Germany to pay reparations as a result of the defeat in World War I. His performance quickly brought him a growing mass of supporters with whom he began planning a coup.

Hitler himself arrived at the brewery after eight in the evening and entered the hall while the current main guest of the evening, State Commissioner Gustav von Kahr, was speaking. But he did not enter alone. Along with him, an armed six hundred-member unit of coup plotters armed with a heavy machine gun, which he built at the entrance, broke into the cellar.

Hitler headed for the podium with a pint in his hand. To get attention, he drank theatrically, then hit the ground with a pint. The moment everyone’s eyes turned to him, he drew his pistol, jumped on the table, and fired into the air. He then made his way to the lectern, where a shocked von Kahr had vacated his seat, announcing the start of the national revolution and the overthrow of the Bavarian government.

Thus began the Munich “beer coup”, Hitler’s first attempt to seize power, in this case by armed means. However, it ended less than 24 hours later, when the fanatical masses, at the head of which he wanted to take control of Munich, stopped numerous and armed police units in the city center. The tense situation resulted in a short shootout in which inexperienced and untrained couplers did not stand a chance against the police – a total of 14 couplers and three police officers were killed. The brief uprising was suppressed, Hitler’s Nazi party NSDAP was briefly banned, and he himself ended up in court.

Mein Kampf is formed behind bars

However, the trial, which took place in February and March 1924, turned out to be better for Hitler than expected. He was sentenced to the lowest possible sentence for attempted a coup, only five years in prison, of which he subsequently served only nine months. The verdict pointed to the bias of the then German judiciary, which was much more lenient with the right-wing extremist Hitler than with the left-wing extremists, and provoked great public criticism. A number of German dailies wrote about the judicial catastrophe and legal bankruptcy.

Hitler was serving his sentence in Landsberg Prison, where he did not appear alone. Emile Maurice, Hitler’s devoted supporter and the first supreme commander of his armed paramilitary units SA, who was later taken over by Ernst Röhm (who also ended up in Landsberg for his participation in the coup, also) ended up behind him with him.

It was Maurice who was the first to write down the ideas that Hitler dictated to him (later replaced by Rudolf Hess in this role). Hitler believed in prison that he had conquered the martyr’s gloriola and convinced himself that he had been chosen to lead the German nation.

He received many visitors behind bars and enjoyed his fame, but eventually he was fully absorbed in the work on the book, which over time he began to plan as a two-part work. In the first part he devoted himself to memories of his life so far, in the second part he described the beginnings of the Nazi movement and the party struggle for power. He went on to express his conviction that he was the chosen man, whose divine providence she had commissioned to lead Germany to the pinnacle of power and honor. The whole intended name was “Four and a half years in the fight against lies, stupidity and cowardice.”

The result thus became a disparate mixture of Hitler’s autobiography, a tactical handbook, and an ideological treatise that spread anti-Jewish sentiment and belief in the superiority of certain races.

According to some historians, Hitler originally intended his work only for followers of National Socialism and its ideology, but he was clearly convinced that this ideology must be won over all of Germany. The administrator of Landsberg Prison at the time noted that his “trustee” hoped, in particular, that the profit from the sale of the book Mein Kampf would enable him to meet all financial obligations and cover the costs incurred in connection with his trial. That is why he supposedly wants the work to be published in as large a cost as possible. Hitler, on the other hand, repeatedly claimed that he wrote the book only for Germans, and refused to publish it in other languages.

Work called and rejected

The first volume of Mein Kampf was published just 95 years ago, on July 18, 1925, and the second followed in 1926. Interest in them rose sharply when Hitler came to power – which was greatly fueled by “compulsorily voluntary” book orders from various public institutions. – for example, in wedding halls, it was given as a state wedding gift to every couple entering into marriage, graduates received it from schools and soldiers from the army on promotion to the rank of officer.

In 1933, Hitler earned about 1.2 million Reichsmarks from the sale of the book, while the teacher’s annual income, for example, was about 4,800 marks at the time.

On the other hand, the book disappointed many supporters of the Nazi movement with its content and styling. It seemed confusing to them, and they were discouraged by numerous vulgarities and incomprehensible thoughts. Hitler sensed this negative response and, in an effort to weaken its impact, tried to distance himself from his work in some way. He emotionally claimed that it was just a “fantasy behind bars” and that it was nothing more than a series of articles for Völkischer Beobachter. He even confided in a high-ranking member of the Nazi party, Hans Frank, that “if he had known in 1924 that he would become the Reich Chancellor, he would never have written this book.”

At the same time, however, he could not go too far in his reserve so as not to lose face in front of his followers. Therefore, he assured everyone with one breath that the shortcomings of the book are only stylistic and would not change anything about its contents.

The debate over the book was eventually summed up succinctly by German politician Hermann Rauschning, chairman of the Gdansk Free City Senate in 1933 and later an emigrant condemning Nazism: “No one took this book and could not take it seriously because no one understood its style.”

Controversy arouses to this day

After World War II, the Bavarian state took over the copyright for Mein Kampf and did not allow its publication in principle because he did not want Nazi ideas to spread around the world. Attempts to republish Hitler’s work have also been prosecuted in many countries as propagating Nazism, but many publishers have ignored it.

In the Czech Republic, Mein Kampf was published in 2000 by the publisher Michal Zítko, who originally earned a suspended sentence for it. However, the Supreme Court eventually overturned this ruling on the grounds that Zítek’s motivation was profit and not the promotion of Nazi ideas. In 2010, another Czech publishing house, KMas, tried to publish the book, but their intention was ultimately thwarted by the Bavarian state’s copyright lawsuit – the publishing house had to withdraw the book from sale and destroy its load.

The rules changed again in 2015, when 70 years have passed since Hitler’s death, and thus the copyright in his works expired, making it “free”. Mein Kampf can therefore be published by anyone in terms of copyright settlement. However, the ban on the spread of Nazi ideology and the promotion of movements to suppress human rights and freedoms has not ceased in most civilized countries. It is therefore up to the publishers and, where appropriate, the state authorities to deal with this situation.

Germany tried to do so with a critical and annotated edition of Mein Kampf, which was published in 2016 at the initiative of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich. This book, in which Hitler’s text was supplemented by five thousand expert commentaries, sold 85,000 copies in Germany in one year. Such great interest caused some concern, so the institute began collecting data from booksellers about the people who bought the book. Finally, he published a report that the concerns were unfounded. According to his research, the book was bought mainly by “customers interested in politics and history and teachers”, and thousands of copies were also purchased by schools, universities and libraries.

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