In 1924, in a cell in Landsberg Prison on the River Lech about 60 miles west of Munich, Adolf Hitler spent 264 days writing his opus, Mein Kampf, after being convicted of treason following his attempt to take over the German government in a failed coup in 1923.
He published the book in Germany to wide acclaim in 1925. A second volume appeared in 1926.
It was hard to imagine then, and it is difficult to comprehend even today, how the writing and subsequent publication of Mein Kampf predicted and outlined the Holocaust and Germany’s ambitions to rule the world.
We wonder what might have happened to European Jewry had Mein Kampf, with its explicit anti-Semitism, been taken seriously in 1925. Would the outcome have been the same for the one-third of the world’s population of Jews who were murdered by the Nazis?
We wonder about anti-Semitism today – Iranian anti-Semitism for instance. The Iranians don’t have the equivalent of Mein Kampf, per se. But what if that country’s vile, anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli rhetoric, largely pooh-poohed as a reflection of internal politics rather than a statement of intent, is that nation’s equivalent of Mein Kampf? What if the failure to take the Ayatollah seriously represents “Déjà vu all over again,” a repeat of the Mein Kampf effect? Such an error would be made more egregious given that Mein Kampf was written by a failed, imprisoned revolutionary, while the Ayatollah Khamenei has been the Supreme Leader of Iran since 1989.
At the end of his 12-year run in 1945, Hitler’s Reich collapsed miserably, with Germany and much of Europe reduced to rubble. More than six million Jews had been slaughtered by the Nazis, as predicted in his book.
12 million copies of Mein Kampf had been printed in Germany, even given out to newlywed German couples as presents by the Nazi Party, by the time Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker.
When he died, when the Reich collapsed, when the Allies took over conquered Germany, the rights to the book were claimed by the Bavarian government and Mein Kampf was banned.
Now, after 70 years, the German statute of limitations has ended and a new 2,000 page (the original was more in the 700 page range), historically annotated version has gone on sale at the price of $64, with the full first printing of 4,000 copies selling out in a couple of days. Another 15,000 are being produced.
Seventy years after Hitler died, Germany is once again forced to confront its Nazi past.
What is driving the sales of Mein Kampf?
Is it a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany?
Has the German right wing grown so powerful it needs this manifesto once again to gain new relevance?
Is Hitler’s popularity reaching new highs once again?
Is he coming back from the dead in all his terror and might to lead off another Holocaust? Or is it simply curiosity?
Today, it is impossible to imagine Mein Kampf leading to another extermination of the Jews in Germany. There are too few Jews there to justify a reprise, and Germany – and the rest of the world – would never stand for it. After all, we have too much experience to ignore the warning signs again. What happened 70 years ago can’t happen again. Right? But wait – what about the threats from Iran?
We believe it can happen again.
Anti-Semitism is up all over the world and much of Europe, most notably in France. In the Middle East, Israel is a pariah state, burdened by its power, demonized by its Arab enemies and jumped all over by a world that barely cares whether Israel survives, or might prefer that it doesn’t.
And if we look at Jewish survival in America through the same lens of history, anything can happen and likely will after more than 300 years of Jewish presence here.
Hitler was 35, brimming with twisted ideas of world conquest, possessed absolutely with the notion of achieving Aryan purity and a German bloodline free of racial pollution when he wrote Mein Kampf.
Hitler was determined to rule Germany, to take down the old order and to rebuild the nation after his own fashion.
If every Jew had read through and taken Mein Kampf seriously, the Holocaust might have been avoided. All of Hitler’s madness was there in black and white, in sometimes unintelligible German prose. But seeing the obvious – or perhaps the challenge is acting on it – remains elusive to the human condition.
Hitler grappled with all the obscenities floating through his active mind – how to rid Germany of communists, bankers and Jews.
His main thesis was the Jewish peril – the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
He considered communism and Judaism the world’s two great evils.
In his swagger, he was very much like the Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, who prays and swears every Friday for destruction of America and the extermination of the Jews in Israel while controlling almost exclusively the lives of 80 million Iranians-and then asks the world to believe that he’s a good man only wanting the best for the world.
The Ayatollah is presently seeing himself repatriated with $100 billion of formerly frozen funds while seeing his right to trade freely – as one of the world’s top holders of oil reserves – with the rest of the world. He will use this windfall to either reincarnate the staggering Iranian economy or put it towards guns and missiles aimed at infidels or in our case, the American Satan, as sanctions lift according to the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal.
Iran is on the rise again even if the price of oil is sinking.
When Hitler was locked up and writing Mein Kampf, it was the Roaring Twenties. The world economy was in high gear. America was at full employment. The stock market soared. In Great Britain and France, the same was true.
Yet Germany languished because of the costly war reparations imposed by the Versailles Treaty at the end of the First World War – the war to end all wars.
Germany lost that war and suffered the price. It couldn’t come back even in the best of times, which gave rise to power mongering homicidal maniacs like Hitler. Like many of the “patriots” who fought for Germany’s redemption, Hitler’s voice had become a powerful force in a society yearning for jobs, for leadership, for the return of German power and for a new reason to exist.
They would find all of this in Hitler and his scapegoat, the Jews.
Hitler decided to write an autobiography of sorts.
It was a roadmap to conquest more than an autobiography. Hitler used his time in prison to write Mein Kampf with the aid of his trusted deputy, Rudolph Hess.
During this period when he was locked behind bars, he coalesced into the monster who would come to be synonymous with the most stunning crimes against humanity, the nearly total genocide of European Jews and the outright slaughter of European mankind.
He used his time behind bars to act out his personal indulgences and beliefs – that Germany was being run by bankers and communists and that the Jews owned and directed them, ergo, erase the Jews and you erase everything else.
Mein Kampf was his shout out for the rise of a new Germany, a shout out that ultimately brought Germany together into one pathologically sick voice, the entire nation screaming: Heil Hitler! Sieg Heil! Germany uber alles!
Had everyone important to Western Civilization read Mein Kampf after it was first published in 1925, leaders would have known he was going to exterminate the Jews, eliminate the communists and invade Russia (Unternehmen Barbarossa) to cleanse Eastern Europe.
Hitler’s point, clear and true, unvarnished by ambiguity, was to take over Europe and then the world with a Reich that would last 1,000 years.
Landsberg Prison then was more of a protective custody facility than a true to form German prison. There was no forced labor. Prison cells were made comfortable with soft bedding, furniture and desks.
Part memoir and part manifesto, Mein Kampf was written in such a room, during a climactic year of his life.
We wonder who rushed into bookstores to buy a copy of Mein Kampf last week. What Germans were eager to read the annotated text, which runs more than 2,000 pages?
What is the curiosity?
Or is it the hate coming out again to show its ugly face?
Is it back to yesterday in Germany – or is it something else?
And does this new twist in Germany reflect on the rise of anti-Semitism around the world?