Mein Kampf and Anne Frank’s Diary, Two Public Domain Controversies

frankhitlerI believe it is entirely appropriate to kick off the new year and Public Domain Day with two public domain controversies. The first controversy not being so much about the book in question being public domain, but rather the book itself now being accessible to the public for free and any old Tom, Dick and Harry can re-print and sell it.

We are of course talking about the magnum opus or autobiography, well at least the author considered it to be such, it is in actual fact a manifesto, written by Adolf Hitler. As of the 1st of January 2016 (today) the copyright expires on this contentious book, and that fact combined with the realisation it can be re-printed has rattled a lot of cages.

Up to now the State of Bavaria, Adolf Hitler died in Munich ( suicide, 1945), has held on firmly to the copyright and upheld the ban on any re-print of Mein Kampf since the (Volume 1 was published in 1925 and Volume 2 in 1926), which means the physical copies in circulation are the ones, which were originally printed before the ban.

What will that entail? A re-surge of interest in Mein Kampf, his words and thoughts being brought to  younger generations, his sympathizers rejoicing in this newly sparked interest and of course the pain, flashbacks and memories it will cause to the survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants.

Adolf Hitler’s name is synonymous with evil, the face of inhumanity and it reminds us of a dark passage in our history. One might argue that there are many such passages in history, some taking place as we speak. The difference being the systematic annihilation, the bureaucratic planning and the goal orientated thinking and execution of Hitler’s troops and collaborators.

There are cries to have Mein Kampf banned, last January Thomas Doherty, who was a  Scottish Labour MP at the time, said:

“I am saying we should absolutely have a debate about whether or not it should be banned. I think this is a debate we should have, and there is an irony if we censor a debate about the limits of free speech. There is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression.”

When taking the new rise in anti-Semitic crimes and hatred towards the Jewish communities in Europe into consideration, I can understand the thinking behind wanting to ban Mein Kampf. The fear being of course that the new tidal wave of anti-Semites will feel empowered by the new interest in Hitler’s words.

Of course the reality is this newly inflamed hatred towards the Jewish people has nothing whatsoever to do with Mein Kampf being brought back into wider circulation. The Far-Right, National-Socialists and their bigotted thoughts, actions and words never went away. Indeed to be completely historically correct the persecution of the Jews started many centuries before the emergence of Hitler and his cronies.

It is easy to blame someone else for the troubles in the world, especially when it is a minority group. Instead of pointing a firm and more realistic finger in the direction of our governments, who are the ones causing catastrophic economic and social conditions of our day and age, people blame innocents groups. Groups of people whose only crime is being a different race, a different religion or just simple different from the bigot.

Despite fears in the Jewish community that publishing Mein Kampf again, will or could cause a new surge in neo-Nazi popularity and sentiment, I think it is a day late and a dollar short. We are already there, it is already happening and it has nothing to do with Mein Kampf.

Irrespective of whether it has been banned in certain countries the book becoming public domain will mean it can be published by anyone regardless of that fact.

The opposite side of the camp argues the historical importance of Mein Kampf as a necessity in regard to education and documentation.The Institut für Zeitgeschichte Berlin-München, the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich will be publishing an annotated edition in an attempt to counter any far-right propaganda attempts by Neo Nazi’s. The IFZ director Andreas Wirsching feels the annotated version will;

 “cut off Hitler’s demagogic discourse, fully exposing his half-truths, his provocative remarks and his downright lies.”

An attempt to explain the ramblings of a madman, good luck with that. Trying to suppress ideologies never works. Much like the forbidden fruit there is always someone willing to taste it. The banning of books always leads to the object in question becoming more desirable to others.

There is also talk of Mein Kampf not only being banned everywhere but also destroyed. Does that not put us firmly in the same bracket as Adolf Hitler?

Trying to ban what we disagree with, trying to dispose of ideas we feel are a threat to our society and trying to annihilate that which we do not understand. Are we calling for our very own Kristallnacht featuring Mein Kampf?

While we are it shall we throw in the Bible, Animal Farm,  Green Eggs and Ham, Moll Flanders or Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

All banned books at one point in time or the other. Perhaps we should ban and destroy War and Peace for simply being too bloody long. On a side note did you know that the Nazi Germany banned All Quiet on the Western Front for being demoralizing and an insult to the German Wehrmacht.

There will always be a variety of opinions on the content and existence of any book. Saying that I would just like to point out that I in no way want to diminish, downplay or not give the reverence I should to all of the victims of the Holocaust or indeed all of the victims of the Nazi era.

I believe the issue of banning the book itself must be seen as a separate issue to a certain extent. If someone else gets to choose what I can or cannot read then that person is taking away my freedom to choose. Who chooses the person who gets to make the choice for us? What if the powers that be decide my Tolkien books are the voice of rebellion and dissent? It is a short and dangerous road from a so-called democracy to oppression. I don’t believe the majority of survivors of the Holocaust believe it is the right road for this book.

When Hitler wrote and published Mein Kampf it was recognised for the literary shambles and drivel written by the megalomaniac he was. It was read at the time without any knowledge of what he would do and just how destructive his reign over Europe would be.

Now when readers take on board the same political manifesto they will be doing so with the full knowledge and historical background of the author’s birth, leadership and death. They can equate the ramblings of his maniacal ideologies to the horrendous atrocities committed on his say so during his time in power.

Let them know the truth. The truth is Hitler’s fixation on eugenics and building a superior race of human beings caused the death of millions of innocent men, women and children. Leaving aside the millions killed during World War 2. Just his attempt to wipe the European continent, and he wouldn’t have stopped there, of every Jew, every Sinti-Roma and all dissidents.

Let them read and comprehend how a dark-haired, pale man of average height wanted to build an Aryan nation of tall blonde haired, blue-eyed master specimens to take over the world. Sounds like a really bad plot for a Bond film. How I wish it were just that.

It is almost poetic justice that a book which depicts the opposite side to the coin and the direct result of Hitler’s murderous rampage is also supposed to be released into the public domain on the same day. Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl (original title Het Achterhuis) is also causing something of a controversy.

The copyright (European copyright law) for Diary of a Young Girl runs out 70 years after the death of the author. Anne Frank and her sister Margot died in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen just a mere few weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allies in April 1945.

The Anne Frank Fonds is trying to fight the release, their argument being that since Otto Frank (died in 1980) is the one who edited and merged Anne’s diaries, he is the one who should be acknowledged as the author of the version he ‘created’. According to the Dutch State Institute for War Documentation argues that a 1986 reprint of the book pushes the release into the public domain to 2037.

Isabelle Attard makes a really valid point, if the Anne Frank Fonds is fighting the release on the basis of the edited and merged versions by Otto Frank still being covered by copyright, then they are actually questioning the validity of the diaries and thereby weakening the historical impact and importance.

“is weakening the weight it has had for decades, as a testimony to the horrors of this war.”

In the name of profit.Despite the dispute the original Dutch version of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl has been released into the public domain, whilst all the translations still remain under copyright.

On that note, censorship is the first step towards dictatorship and we should change the laws to protect the public domain from corporate greed before it is gone.

Download and read the English version of Mein Kampf or the original German version, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Animal Farm, Moll Flanders, The Sea Wolf, The Prince and the Pauper, A Room with a View or listen to The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders.

Read Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, Disney, The Ali Baba of the Public Domain, The Public Domain, a Treasure Trove of Poetry, Questioning Gen, Prelinger Archives or Royalty Free Images right here on the blog.

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