[ . . . ] “Seventy years ago it fell to US occupying forces in Germany to decide what to do with the book, and they passed the copyright to the state government of Bavaria. Seeing as the recently deceased author had done nothing but damage to the region’s reputation, Bavaria might well have been determined to sit on its rights and see off any thoughts of republication even if there had been no fears of rekindling a Nazi ideology that had only recently been comprehensively routed. But republishing Mein Kampf at any time was bound to raise sensitive questions. Would it not lend prominence to a hate-filled 1,000-page tome that acted as a founding document for the crimes of Nazism? Might it not risk fuelling, even today, the twisted logic of Holocaust deniers or of anyone prone to be more fascinated than repelled by Hitler? Such qualms might have been justified had the text been reprinted in its blunt form, without any effort put into debunking its sick ramblings.
Yet that is not the case. Care, wisdom and admirable scholarship have all played a part in the creation of the two-volume Hitler, Mein Kampf: A Critical Edition, launched on 8 January by the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History. It sets out to provide not just knowledge of what Hitler wrote, but a systematic dismantling of his manipulative theories and lies. And not just that: the book, now on sale in general bookshops in Germany for the first time since the war, details how Hitler’s prose of the 1920s (he wrote Mein Kampf while in prison) translated into concrete policy once he rose to power in 1933. This new publication is thus useful: it goes one step further towards demystifying the roots of the evil that unfolded. Exposure, not hiding, is the best way to neutralise the conspiratorial thinking and sinister fascination that can be aroused by a forbidden object.” [ . . . ]
[ . . . ] “Hitler, whom we suspect of being an embittered, envious, traumatized loser, presents himself as . . . an embittered, envious, traumatized loser. The weirdness of this is especially evident in the earlier autobiographical chapters. His resentments are ever-present. His father was dense, mean, unforgiving, and opaque. (“My father forbade me to nourish the slightest hope of ever being allowed to study art. I went one step further and declared that if that was the case I would stop studying altogether. As a result of such ‘pronouncements,’ of course, I drew the short end; the old man began the relentless enforcement of his authority.”) His schoolmates were combative, his schoolmasters unappreciative. The petty rancor and unassuaged disappointments of a resentment-filled life burn on every page, in ways one would think might be more demoralizing than inspiring to potential followers. His embittered account of his final rejection at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts is typical:
“I had set out with a pile of drawings, convinced that it would be child’s play to pass the examination. At the Realschule I had been by far the best in my class at drawing, and since then my ability had developed amazingly; my own satisfaction caused me to take a joyful pride in hoping for the best. . . . I was in the fair city for the second time, waiting with burning impatience, but also with confident self-assurance, for the result of my entrance examination. I was so convinced that I would be successful that when I received my rejection, it struck me as a bolt from the blue. Yet that is what happened. When I presented myself to the rector, requesting an explanation for my non-acceptance at the Academy’s school of painting, that gentleman assured me that the drawings I had submitted incontrovertibly showed my unfitness for painting.”
The triviality of the injury and the length and intensity with which it’s recalled—in a book intended, after all, to attract fanatical followers to a fanatical cause—would seem to be more unsettling than seductive. And many similar passages of equally irrelevant self-pity follow. His description of his hunger while footloose in Vienna is pointillist.
Mussolini’s autobiography, to take the obvious comparison, though ghostwritten—by a former American Ambassador to Italy, apparently!—nonetheless reflects his sense of the best self to put forward; the youthful memories are more predictably of a concord between the young Italian and the national landscape he inhabits. (The Masons play the same role for Mussolini that the Jews did for Hitler: the cosmopolitan force interrupting the natural harmony between the people and their home, the blood and the birthplace.) Mussolini’s is a Fascist dictator’s memoir written as you would expect a Fascist dictator to write it. To be sure, Hitler is writing at the bottom of the ascent and Mussolini at the top, but the temperamental difference is arresting nonetheless.” [ . . .]