In a fascinating post over at Vocativ, author Chris Faraone outlines what he calls ‘Hitler’s big comeback’ in the age of e-readers, suggesting that a recent surge in downloads of digital copies of the dictator’s manifesto Mein Kampf could have something in common with the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey. Much as the boom in sales of erotic romance novels was traced back to the privacy afforded readers by Kindles – meaning they could be read in public without readers feeling self-conscious about what was on the cover and how others around them might react to it – Faraone suggests that downloaders now feel able to read Hitler’s book as a historical document without glaring eyes making them feel ashamed of doing so.
Faraone cites the (understandably) declining print sales of the book since its initial US publication in 1939 and contrasts that with what appears to be increasing digital interest, noting (with glint in eye and tongue in cheek) that on iTunes, ‘two different digital versions of Mein Kampf rank 12th and 15th on the Politics & Current Events chart alongside books by modern conservative powerhouses like Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer and Glenn Beck.’ He goes on to list various digital editions consistently appearing in various Amazon charts – including Propaganda & Political Psychology, Globalisation, Nationalism, Philosophers and, particularly, World War II books and Historical Biographies & Memoirs – and points out that those are just the copies people are paying for, with a further 100,000 free downloads coming from the Internet Archive.
On top of all that, Mein Kampf was supposed to be seeing its first publication in Germany since World War II in 2015, with German authorities compiling an annotated version that would provide context and condemnation for its content, the aim being to counteract any use of the book for propagandistic purposes following its entrance into the public domain 70 years after Hitler’s death. That plan, though, has now seemingly been halted, due to ‘concern that any acknowledgment of Hitler could project the wrong message, particularly at a time when German leaders are struggling to suppress an electorally active neo-Nazi faction from infecting the republic.’ Given that globally accessible digital copies are already so readily available, however, the wisdom of such a move seems, perhaps, questionable.