PARIS — A new, heavily annotated version of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was published in France on Wednesday, aiming to break down his hate-filled, anti-Semitic ideology with expert analysis and a new translation that better conveys the original text’s muddled prose.
Published by Fayard, a French publishing house, the book — “Historicizing Evil: A Critical Edition of Mein Kampf” — runs to nearly 1,000 pages, with twice as much commentary as text. Scholars, researchers and teachers are the main target audience.
“Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle,” the Nazi leader’s manifesto and memoir, first appeared as two volumes in 1925 and 1927 and was banned in Germany by the Allies in 1945. It was not officially published again there until 2016, when a team of scholars and historians released a nearly 2,000-page edition with thousands of annotations after a 70-year copyright held by the state of Bavaria expired.
The version published in France on Wednesday is an extended adaptation of that edition, with contributions from over a dozen experts and historians led by Florent Brayard, a French historian specializing in Nazism and the Holocaust, and Andreas Wirsching, the director of the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, which had led work on the German version.
Each of the 27 chapters is prefaced by an introductory analysis, and Hitler’s writing is meticulously annotated, line by line, with commentary that debunks false statements and provides historical context.
Fayard, which first started work on the project a decade ago, said the book was a “fundamental source to understand the history of the 20th century.”
Now that “Mein Kampf” is in the public domain, freely available online with little to no context, or sold by fringe far-right publishers, Fayard argued that it was urgent to publish a critical version that would deconstruct the text and guard against crude, uncritical translations that still circulate.
“To know where we are going, it is vital that we understand where we are coming from,” Sophie de Closets, the head of Fayard, wrote in a letter to booksellers explaining the reasoning behind the publication.
The book will be made available only by special order in bookstores with a price tag of 100 euros, or about $120, and all proceeds and profits from sales will go to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. The initial print run will be of about 10,000 copies, with some free copies set aside for public libraries.
The new edition also aims to better convey the jumbled mess of Hitler’s prose. Olivier Mannoni, the translator, told the newspaper Libération this week that he had stuck as closely as possible to the original text — a confusing rant combining anti-Semitic conspiracies, hateful nationalism, and obsessions over sexuality and hygiene.
“An incoherent soup, one could become half-mad translating it,” Mr. Mannoni said, noting that the original French translation in 1934 had smoothed over the writing and given a false impression of Hitler as a “cultured man” with “coherent and grammatically correct reasoning.”
“To me, making this text elegant is a crime,” Mr. Mannoni added.
In 2016, heated debate erupted in France when details of Fayard’s plans for the new edition were first reported. Some Jewish groups said that any airing of Hitler’s views, however critical, risked fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.
Tal Bruttmann, a French historian and specialist in anti-Semitism and the Holocaust who had expressed reservations about the project in 2016, told the newspaper Le Monde this week that there was no further need for a “polemic.” He noted that the team of historians had added so many annotations to “Mein Kampf” that Hitler’s text had become “secondary.”
Some historians had also worried that the edition would give the text an unwarranted round of new exposure. Johann Chapoutot, a historian at the Sorbonne who specializes in the history of Nazi Germany, told Libération this week that it was a mistake to “fetishize” the book and focus so much on Hitler instead of the culture, social structures and other leaders who made Nazism possible.
“Such an undertaking gives credence to the idea that ‘Mein Kampf’ is the bible of Nazism,” Mr. Chapoutot said. “Which it isn’t.”
But the project’s scholarly heft and commercial precautions seemed to have dispelled most fears, and news of the publication on Wednesday attracted little controversy. Even Haïm Korsia, France’s chief rabbi, told the weekly Le Point that with anti-Semitism still rife, especially online, the book was “the best way to fight against the temptation of doing nothing.”
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