Bavarian battle looms on ‘Mein Kampf’

State government withdraws funding for annoated edition of Nazi work

An original copy of “Mein Kampf” found after the liberation of Europe.  Photograph:  Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

An original copy of “Mein Kampf” found after the liberation of Europe. Photograph: Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 01:00

A battle is looming over Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf after Bavaria abandoned plans to finance a critical edition of the work and instead will challenge publishers of public domain editions when the copyright expires next year.

Last year the Bavarian state government, copyright holder to the Nazi dictator’s works since 1946, contracted Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to publish two editions of the work: an annotated copy for historians and another for schoolchildren.

The IfZ was given a grant of €500,000 to publish the titles before the end of 2015 when, 70 years after Hitler’s suicide, the copyright would expire.

By lifting a self-imposed seven-decade ban on the work, the Bavarian government hoped to pre-empt a flood of copyright-free editions from 2016, including from far-right groups.

Now Bavaria has performed a U-turn: revoking the funding and vowing to take to court anyone who tries to publish the work in Germany. A spokeswoman for the Bavarian science ministry said the state governor, Horst Seehofer, had reconsidered the decision after a visit to Israel.

“In conversations with Holocaust survivors he noticed that for them this is still a very problematic work,” said the spokeswoman. “This decision is a show of respect for their feelings because it has a whole different standing for a government to publish the book.”

Yesterday the Bavarian science ministry vowed to use “every legal means possible” to prevent others publishing the work after the copyright expires. That sets the stage for a legal confrontation with the IfZ which, despite the funding cut, will continue with the project.

The Bavarian state inherited the copyright to Hitler’s works because, at the time of his suicide in 1945, he was still officially a resident of Munich.

The government has kept the works out of the public domain since then. Last year it secured an injunction against a historical magazine and forced it to remove excerpts of the book from its publication.

The Nazi politician began to write Mein Kampf, part autobiography and part political manifesto, during his imprisonment for a failed coup in 1923. The first volume appeared in 1925, the second a year later. The book earned more than 1 million Reichsmarks for Hitler during his lifetime, with over 10 million copies sold or distributed to German soldiers.

A spokesman for the Bavarian finance ministry said it had earned no money on its copyright of Hitler’s title in the past seven decades. However Bavaria has no control over internet distribution, nor does it control the English language rights to the book, which were sold off in the US and UK at the time of original publication.