Mein Kampf is not exactly a book – it is much more a very, very long speech. Actually, it was a speech as it was initially dictated by Adolf Hitler to his private secretary Rudolf Hess (and subsequently edited by the latter).
Hitler never actually sat down and pecked at a typewriter or wrote longhand, but instead dictated it to Rudolf Hess while pacing around his prison cell in 1923-24 and later at an inn at Berchtesgaden.
Consequently it would have been far more successful (before the Nazis came to power in 1933) had it been made into an audiobook. With Adolf Hitler as a narrator (although a preacher would have been a better word).
Unfortunately (or fortunately), audiobook technologies did not exist back then (they became available only in the 1970s) so sales left much to be desired. The first volume was published in 1925 (right after Bavarian government lifted the ban on the Nazi party) and the second volume a year later.
The first edition of 10,000 copies quickly sold out and a second edition was published, but sales quickly slackened thereafter. This changed in 1930, when the Nazi Party made huge gains in the parliamentary elections. By late 1932, almost 230,000 copies had been sold. Not much for the country of sixty million.
Following Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor on January 30, 1933, the popularity of Mein Kampf’ predictably soared and made the author a multi-millionaire. That year alone more than 850,000 copies were sold.
As Germany now was a Nazi Führerstaat, the purchase of Mein Kampf was considered an act of patriotism (something that Nazi propaganda was never tired of informing the Germans about). Hence it is no surprise that by the end of 1944, more than 12 million copies had been printed.
To increase sales, the Nazi publishing house created special or commemorative editions, including the ones for the blind, for newlyweds, for Hitler’s 50th birthday in 1939, etc.
It was quickly understood (by comparing what Mein Kampf said and what Nazis actually did) that just about all key decisions and actions in the Nazi state had their roots in that book. Consequently, to understand the Nazis (and predict what they would do), one had to study Mein Kampf.
Therefore, it was no surprise either that after Nazis came to power in 1933, Mein Kampf was quickly translated into eleven languages. Interestingly enough, the first translation of Mein Kampf was done into Russian – and by a Jew.
The name of that Jew was Karol Sobelsohn. Better known as Karl Radek, he was one of the key conspirators behind the failed Communist Hamburg Uprising in October 1923.
His role was so significant that subsequent congresses of the Russian Communist Party and meetings of the ECCI (Comintern Executive Council), Radek was made the scapegoat for the defeat of the revolution and removed from the ECCI at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern. He was executed by a firing squad during Stalin’s Great Purge.
It is not surprising at all that prior to 1933 Mein Kampf did not sell well as it was written for a very small audience. For all practical purposes, it was an instruction manual for the leaders (local, municipal, provincial, etc.) of the Nazi Party.
This manual provided answers to three key questions faced by its target audience:
- What needs to be done?
- Why it needs to be done?
- How it needs to be done?
It is undeniable that the Nazi party achieved spectacular (and even miraculous) successes. Both in 1919-33 (before it came to power) and in 1933-39 – both in the civilian life and on the battlefields in Europe, Russia and North Africa.
It is equally undeniable that the 12-year Nazi rule ended in a colossal disaster, in a catastrophe that made Germany and the German people far worse off than they were before the Nazi came to power. On the other hand, the Nazis saved Germany (and the whole Europe) from being conquered and subsequently destroyed by the Bolsheviks.
And, no less obviously, the Nazis committed horrendous war crimes against humanity. Probably, the worst such crimes in the history of mankind (although Stalin and Pol Pot might disagree).
As Mein Kampf became the foundation for the Third Reich (and practically an all-encompassing one), it would be fair to conclude that it was initially a very successful book (in terms of achieving its objectives) that ultimately led Germany to one of the worst disasters in modern history (the other one being Japan).
And as it became the foundation for a very criminal Nazi ideology and a drive behind horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by a Nazi regime, it was definitely a criminal book written by a criminal. No doubt about that.
For exactly this reason, Allied occupation officials removed Mein Kampf and other Nazi texts from circulation and prohibited their re-publication. American authorities subsequently transferred the copyright to the Bavarian government, which used its legal power to ban the re-issuing of Hitler’s book in Germany and elsewhere.
With the exception of the English-language versions, which made the ban pretty much useless. In spite of its efforts, the Bavarian government was never able to fully stop the reprinting of Mein Kampf.
No surprise here. First, in the modern free world such a ban not only does not work but actually becomes a very powerful promotional tool for the banned book. As the forbidden fruit is exceptionally sweet. Hence, Mein Kampf has been published in a variety of languages in hard copy and (especially) in an electronic form on the Internet.
In 2008, Stephan Kramer, then secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, not only recommended lifting the ban, but volunteered the help of his organization in editing and annotating the text, saying that it is time for the book to be made available to all online.
Which made complete sense, but he had to wait seven long years. On midnight of December 31, 2015, the copyright for Mein Kampf expired, ending the Bavarian government’s official control over the book. In preparation for this deadline, Germany’s respected Institute for Contemporary History in Munich has published a critical edition of the work.
In other words, the edition with extensive comments – which should have been done in 1946. Still, due to it being intended for a very specific (and very small) audience, a far better solution is to publish a compendium of Mein Kampf that contains only the most relevant passages. Relevant to the structure and actions of the Third Reich, of course.
And that’s exactly what I have done in the previous section.
An annotated edition of Mein Kampf was published in Germany in January 2016 and sold out within hours on Amazon’s German site. An annotated edition of Mein Kampf was published in Germany in January 2016 and sold out within hours on Amazon’s German site.
The reason why Mein Kampf was so successful is plain and simple. It contains a lot of truth (i.e. undeniable facts), sets a number of strategic objectives that at that time made complete sense and offers highly efficient ways and means to achieve these objectives.
In essence, it gave the Nazi leaders a reasonably detailed blueprint, a roadmap to seizing absolute power in Germany, transforming the much-hated Weimar Republic into a National-Socialist Führerstaat and then using the Nazi State to achieve their long-term strategic objectives.
The reason why it ultimately failed (and failed so spectacularly) is also plain and simple. Like the Nazi ideology (that grew out of Mein Kampf), it created a highly distorted (and thus grossly incorrect) perception of the world.
It is a fundamental law of human psychology that perceptions are the only reality. Consequently, the Nazis made and implemented decisions which were based on this highly incorrect perception of reality. Not surprisingly, these decisions ultimately led to colossal strategic blunders, to their defeat in World War II and to the demise of the Third Reich.
It is undeniable that some of the objectives (i.e. Lebensraum, Judenrein) and ways to achieve them (e.g. “racial hygiene”, aggressive colonial wars, enslavement and exploitation of other nations) are fundamentally criminal. So it is no surprise either that practical implementation of this “instruction manual” resulted in horrible war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After the party’s poor showing in the 1928 elections, Hitler believed that the reason for his loss was the public’s misunderstanding of his ideas. He then retired to Munich to dictate a sequel to Mein Kampf to expand on its ideas, with more focus on foreign policy.
However, Max Amann (head of Eher-Verlag – the official publishing house of the Nazi Party) convinced Hitler that a second book would hinder sales even more. So two copies of the 200-page manuscript were originally made, and only one of these was ever made public.
It was neither edited nor published during the Nazi era and remains known as Zweites Buch, or “Second Book”. To keep the document strictly secret, in 1935 Hitler ordered that it be placed in a safe in an air raid shelter. It remained there until being discovered by an American officer in 1945.
American journalist John Gunther called Mein Kampf “a powerful and moving book, the product of great passionate feeling” and stated that “its ceaseless repetition of the key arguments, left impregnably in their minds, fecund and germinating”.
George Orwell wrote that “the force of Hitler’s personality shone through the often “clumsy” writing, capturing the magnetic allure of Hitler for many Germans.” Winston Churchill wrote that he felt that after Hitler’s ascension to power, no other book than Mein Kampf deserved more intensive scrutiny.
I would wholeheartedly agree. In fact, in my humble opinion, Mein Kampf was the most influential book in the XX century. The more influential Communist Manifesto came out in the previous one.