Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436
Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) while imprisoned Bavaria after his failed attempt to seize power in Munich in November, 1923. Published in the summer of 1925, it was followed by the second volume in December,...
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Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) while imprisoned Bavaria after his failed attempt to seize power in Munich in November, 1923. Published in the summer of 1925, it was followed by the second volume in December, 1926. The book presents Hitler’s Social Darwinist worldview and reveals his hatred of Jews and bolshevists. The German government did not restrict the publication or sale of Mein Kampf, but the book did not become a best-seller until 1930.
In 1933 an abridged English translation was published in Great Britain and the United States. This version retained Hitler’s remarks on his main goals, but it omitted many of his crude comments about Jews and nonwhite peoples and his belligerent references to France. This censorship was the work of Nazi government officers who had to approve the translation before permitting it to be published abroad.
Jewish interests in the United States and Britain attempted unsuccessfully to suppress the book’s publication and distribution. An August, 1933, article entitled “Greed Conquers American Decency” in The Jewish Ledger of New Orleans denounced Mein Kampf’s American publisher, Houghton Mifflin. The publisher of the Chicago Israelite, sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking “Is there not some way that publication of this book can be suppressed?” Wall Street broker Louis Lober even urged New York City’s board of education to boycott textbooks published by Houghton Mifflin.
In 1939 a complete and unabridged English translation of Mein Kampf by Ralph Manheim that included scholarly notes was published. It became the book’s standard English translation in the United States both before and after World War II. After 1945—when Hitler’s “Thousand-year Reich” was in ashes—Germany’s Bavarian state, which acted as legal executor of Nazi property, refused permission to publish Mein Kampf in Germany. German booksellers who attempted to sell copies of the book were charged with unconstitutional acts. Not until 1979 did Germany’s highest court rule that the book could be publicly sold. Literary critic Fritz J. Raddatz opposed this ruling because he thought the book too dangerous.
Hutchinson Publishing, the British publishing house that held the British copyright to Mein Kampf, also faced massive opposition to its decision to reissue the book in 1969. The firm’s chairman, Sir Robert Lusty, was opposed by his board, the West German government, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. However, the Council of Christians and Jews supported the publication of the new edition. This organization, like many scholars, contended that making Mein Kampf freely available would help to expose Hitler’s brutal racist philosophy.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1423
In 1924, Adolf Hitler dictated Mein Kampf (“my struggle”) to political associates while he was serving a short prison term for having attempted to overthrow the regional government of Bavaria. The two-volume work constitutes a potpourri of autobiographical anecdotes and reflections about German history and politics. Hitler published the work with the goal of advancing his career and political agenda. Initially, he had planned to utilize the title “Four and a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice,” but his publisher, Max Amann, adopted the simpler title.
The first volume includes a combination of autobiographical anecdotes and reflections about the deplorable conditions in Germany and the establishment of the National Socialist German Workers Party (abbreviated the Nazi Party). Volume 2 goes into more detail about the party’s ideology and domestic agenda. Produced hurriedly in a tone of anger and bitterness, both volumes are frequently repetitive, and almost all scholars agree that they are of limited literary or philosophical quality. Except for the author’s historical significance, they would not be worthy of serious consideration.
Although Mein Kampf is only partly autobiographical, a large portion of the first volume is devoted to selective and impressionistic episodes from Hitler’s life experiences. In summarizing his early years in northern Austria, he praises his father’s character and patriotism, but he expresses strong resentment toward his father’s attempts to convince him to pursue a career in the civil service. He writes that during his youth he became a “fanatical German Nationalist,” enthusiastically singing the anthem, “Deutschland über Alles” (Germany above all) and despising the “conglomeration of races” in the Habsburg Empire. While living in the capital city of Vienna between 1907 and 1912, he spent much time observing the proceedings of the Austrian parliament, which he found appalling because of its chaotic “huckstering and bargaining” and the deputies’ use of Slavic dialects. Having always spoken the German dialect of lower Bavaria, Hitler found it relatively easy before World War I to move to the Bavarian capital of Munich, where he succeeded in earning a modest living as an artist. This prewar period is described as “the happiest and by far the most contented” of his life.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I, Hitler obtained permission to join the Bavarian army. When accepted, he fell to his knees and “thanked heaven” for the opportunity to fight for the fatherland. Like countless other frontline soldiers, Hitler experienced Germany’s surrender in 1918, which he dubbed “the November crime,” as a traumatic shock. Attributing defeat to a “stab in the back,” he believed that the guilty persons were a combination of pacifists, Marxists, Jews, and politicians. He despised this “whole gang of miserable party scoundrels and betrayers of the people,” and observed that all of them were “ripe for hanging.” Like the vast majority of Germans, he bitterly resented the harsh Treaty of Versailles (1919), which he characterized as “an act of highway robbery against our people.”
Mein Kampf places a great deal of emphasis on Hitler’s weltanschauung (worldview), which is defined as his “structure of personal thought or outlook on life.” This worldview is based on militaristic values, focusing on the necessity and benefits of conflict and warfare. Hitler’s experiences in the war reinforced and helped develop this value system. Directly or indirectly, moreover, his biases were reinforced by the philosophy of social Darwinism, which viewed human history from the evolutionary perspective of “survival of the fittest.” In contrast to Marxist socialists, who believed that human history was based on struggle among social classes, Hitler believed that human evolution was the result of struggle among competing races and that the most fundamental law of nature was that the most powerful humans are the only ones who have a right to survive. Time and again he emphasized that “those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.” Pacifists and others who disagreed with such a viewpoint were ridiculed as “dreamers” who ignored “reality.”
Hitler asserts in Mein Kampf that humans are divided into genetically discrete races, and he asserted that racial conflict provides “the key not only to world history but to all human culture.” Viewing races as equivalent to fundamentally different species, he draws a parallel with the animal world: “Each animal mates only with one of its own species. The titmouse cohabits only with the titmouse, the finch with the finch.” Racial purity is of primary importance, because “blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level” has been the cause for the decline of nations and empires. Germany, therefore, must not follow the example of the French, whose social and colonial policies are likely “to remove all traces of French blood” and result in a primitive “Euro-African Mulatto State.” Moreover, in Hitler’s eyes, Aryans have been responsible for all achievements of high culture, and the primary reason has been their noble “instinct of self preservation, as manifested in their willingness to subordinate their individual egos in service to the community.”
Declaring that Jews constitute a race and not a religion, Hitler refers to the Jewish race as a “noxious bacillus” that threatens Aryan purity, and he warns: “With satanic joy in his face the black haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people.” As proof that Jews are attempting to take over the world, he points to a document purported to be a secret Jewish plan to do just that: Protocoly sionskikh mudretsov (pb. c. 1903; The Red Bible, 1919; better known as The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, 1920). Observing that liberal newspapers have insisted that this document is a hoax, he simply answers that such allegations by the Jewish-controlled media constitute “the best proof” that it is authentic. Questionable logic of this kind occurs frequently in Mein Kampf.
Insisting that individuals must be willing to sacrifice their selfish interests for the benefit of a larger society, Hitler defines true idealism as “the subordination of the interests and life of the individual to the community.” He applies this principle to a program of eugenics, which he sees as necessary for the development of a superior race. Because the most “humane act of mankind” is to prevent “defective” people “from propagating equally defective offspring,” the state must take the necessary steps to prevent the continuing propagation of persons who have inherited diseases or physical defects. Hitler also makes it clear that he despises the practice of democracy and that he favors government in the hands of a firm, authoritarian leader (or führer), one man with wisdom, fortitude, and moral strength.
Hitler provides a number of hints about the foreign policies that he plans to pursue if he is able to take control of the German government. Comparing the size of German territory with those of Russia, China, and the United States, he makes no secret of his desire for a war of conquest. Observing that eighty million Germans are scattered throughout Europe, he envisions a united and prosperous nation of over three times that number within a century. The annexation (anschluss) of Austria to Greater Germany, he says, is “a task to which we should devote our lives.” Openly declaring that additional living space (lebensraum) will be needed to accommodate population growth, he writes that the only real option is to annex portions of “Russia and her vassal border states.” Adding that the goal of Germanization applies only to territory and not to teaching people to speak German, he writes that “nationality or rather race does not happen to lie in language but in the blood.” Since he clearly asserts that the Slavic peoples of the east are genetically unacceptable, the implication is that they will have to be driven out of the conquered lands and replaced by persons of pure Germanic blood.
When Mein Kampf appeared, enough people bought copies to provide Hitler with a stable income. Most twenty-first century readers find it difficult to understand why the work became so popular and influential. In explaining its appeal, historians emphasize that the majority of Germans shared Hitler’s anger and frustrations over the outcome of World War I, and the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929 further increased the number of persons prepared to accept the book’s message. In addition, its various themes—including nationalism, anti-Semitism, eugenics, and dissatisfaction with the government—appeared to be relatively widespread and to resonate with the political culture of the period.