The two volumes of Mein Kampf, written by Adolf Hitler whilst in prison in 1924 comprise the most contentious and divisive book of the twentieth century. It has swung from being the most popular to the most reviled, from a compulsory issue to German citizens to being illegal.
So what exactly does the book contain, and why is it so controversial?
Dictated in prison 1924
Mein Kampf was written in 1924 by Hitler during his internment in Landsberg am Lech Prison, although we should say ‘authored by’, as he dictated all of it to another Nazi Party member interred with him, his deputy Rudolph Hess. Between them, the two did all the writing.
This précis of the preface gives a good summary of its contents and provides one with a feel for the self-confidence and mind-set of the author at the time:
ON APRIL I, 1924, because of the sentence handed down by the People’s Court of Munich, I had to begin that day, serving my term in the fortress at Landsberg on the Lech.
Thus, after years of uninterrupted work, I resolved not only to set forth, in two volumes, the object of our movement, but also to draw a picture of its development.
That also gave me the opportunity to describe my own development, as far as this is necessary for the understanding of the first as well as the second volume, and which may serve to destroy the evil legends created about my person by the Jewish press.
I know that one is able to win people far more by the spoken than by the written word, and that every great movement on this globe owes its rise to the great speakers and not to the great writers.
Nevertheless, the basic elements of a doctrine must be set down in permanent form in order that it may be represented in the same way and in unity. In this connection these two volumes should serve as building stones which I add to our common work.
The Nazi bible
Following his installation as Chancellor in 1933, the book became almost a sacred work of the Führer and a copy was to be found in every household. Every couple who got married were given a copy by the state along with their signed marriage certificate and it was traditional to keep it inside a wooden box carved with oak leaves, and have it on display in the home.
There was also a condensed version of both volumes in one book. In the War years, every soldier was given a compact and abridged copy as part of his kit, and was expected to use it for inspiration and motivation in the field. Over 10 million copies were bought, sold or given out in Germany.
The best overview of the book is from the list of Chapters, where you will see a summary of the thoughts and subject areas that are explained in detail within its pages. Volume one is autobiographical, outlining Hitler’s personal journey which led to his beliefs. Volume two is forward looking and sets out his dream for the perfect Germany and people.
List of chapters
Volume one: a reckoning
Chapter 1: In the House of my Parents
Chapter 2: Years of Study and Suffering in Vienna
Chapter 3: General Political Considerations Based on my Vienna Period
Chapter 4: Munich
Chapter 5: The World War
Chapter 6: War Propaganda
Chapter 7: The Revolution
Chapter 8: The Beginning of my Political Activity
Chapter 9: The ‘German Workers’ Party’
Chapter 10: Causes of the Collapse
Chapter 11: Nation and Race
Chapter 12: The First Period of Development of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party
Volume two: The National Socialist Movement
Chapter 1: Philosophy and Party
Chapter 2: The State
Chapter 3: Subjects and Citizens
Chapter 4: Personality and the Conception of the Völkisch State
Chapter 5: Philosophy and Organization
Chapter 6: The Struggle of the Early Period – the Significance of the Spoken Word
Chapter 7: The Struggle with the Red Front
Chapter 8: The Strong Man Is Mightiest Alone
Chapter 9: Basic Ideas Regarding the Meaning and Organisation of the Sturmabteilung
Chapter 10: Federalism as a Mask
Chapter 11: Propaganda and Organization
Chapter 12: The Trade-Union Question
Chapter 13: German Alliance Policy after the War
Chapter 14: Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy
Chapter 15: The Right of Emergency Defence
The Nazi doctrine of ‘Ubermench’
Mein Kampf contains Hitler’s detailed thoughts about racial differences of people and their proposed value or lack of value to the German nation. It also contains instructions for how children are to be schooled, the duties of a good German wife, and instructions for the attainment of the perfect German man in health, fitness, education and duty to the NSDAP Party.
Each Chapter is subdivided into subjects of about three pages each, and the titles of these are both interesting and revealing of Germany’s journey into and through the war years. Here are some examples of instantly recognisable Nazi doctrine, which covers around 40 pages:
Mission of the German People p600, World History is Made by Minorities p603, Natural Process of Regeneration of the Race p605, Danger of Race-Mixing p606, Call to German Youth p6ll, Healthy Body Healthy Spirit p614, The Value of Sports p616, Suggestive Force of Self-Confidence p618, Control Between School Age and Military Service Age p619, The Army as Final and Highest School p620, Character Formation p621, Cultivation of Will Power and Determination p623, Current ‘Patriotic’ Education p632, Awakening National Pride p633,
German copyright expired 31 Dec 2015, after 75 years
German Copyright of Mein Kampf had been held by the state of Bavaria for 70 years and they had prohibited it from being reissued, but this ownership ended on 31 December 2015, and it is now unprotected by any copyright law.
Germany’s Institute for Contemporary History has recently decided to republish it in January 2016 — the first time in January in 75 years. It will be published in a 2,000-page heavily annotated version, instead of the original 700-page editions, including a critical commentary of the original text. This is a hugely controversial decision which could evoke emotions across the world in the months surrounding its release.