After all the huffing and puffing earlier in the week from parents concerned that their children were about to start talking like old-timey hobos who’ve just downed a couple of jugs of Old Maw Pepper’s moonshine, The Guardian has word of an overturning of censorship that will certainly test the mettle of free speech defenders: the imminent republication of Mein Kampf, the sole literary endeavour of a frustrated visual artist who just happened to go on to wider infamy with his state-sponsored murdering of millions (shall we get the Producers quotes out of the way early? Let’s: ‘Hitler… there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!’)
For reasons that should be largely self-evident, the book has been absent from German shelves since 1945, with publication, prominent display for sale and ‘flaunting in public’ all forbidden by law. Weird as it is to think of Hitler as a copyright holder, upon his death at the end of the Second World War (say, you don’t think the two might be connected, do you?) all rights to the title passed to the Bavarian state finance ministry, and the book was given the standard 70 year window on copyright expiration after the author’s death.
Unless you have a particularly poor grasp of rudimentary arithmetic, then, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock to realise that we are fast approaching this 70 year cut-off, which will arrive in 2015, and at which time the text will enter into the public domain. Obviously even the staunchest defenders of free speech would acknowledge the potential dangers inherent in releasing such a deliberately inflammatory text in a form devoid of context or refutation (or even, should it find its way into the hands of neo-Nazi movements, given endorsement).
In a bid to control the damage that could be wrought by unscrupulous types looking to capitalise on the text’s infamy, German authorities are compiling an annotated version featuring academic commentary that thoroughly debunks Hitler’s rabid bile. Their aim is to ‘demystify’ the book, and discussions are also taking place with bookshops and publishers asking that they voluntarily refuse to carry any unannotated editions. Expected: the Bavarian edition will be translated into English and published internationally, and an e-book edition will also be made available. Slightly less expected: so will an audiobook (imagine being the actor who gets that call). Prediction: it won’t sell quite as many copies as it did in, oh, let’s say Germany in, oh, let’s say the 30s.