How was Hitler's library like 1

Hitler, Mein Kampf as a library task - A Magdeburg plea

With the publication of the critical edition of Hitler's inflammatory pamphlet My fight At the beginning of 2016, many libraries have to decide how they want to deal with it: ignore or purchase, open access or magazine display? From the point of view of the university library, the article discusses possible options for making a plea for an open and critical approach despite all the dangers.

When in January 2016 the critical edition of Hitler’s inflammatory writing My fight is published, many libraries have to decide how to deal with it: ignoring or acquiring it, placing it in the open-access department or in the stacks? This article discusses possible options from the point of view of the Magdeburg university library in order to argue in favor of dealing openly and critically with the work, despite all dangers.

At the beginning of 2016 the time had come: 70 years after the author's death, the rights to one of the most famous and difficult German books of the 20th century, and indeed German history in general, expired. Adolf Hitler's inflammatory pamphlet My fight can now be reproduced by anyone without restrictions. Until 2015, the rights were with the Free State of Bavaria, which had prohibited any reproduction.

For several years there has been a controversy among scientists and politicians about how to deal with this book after the copyright expires. Well-known historians such as the Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw[1] or Hans-Ulrich Wehler[2] , Author of the standard work German social history, pleaded early on for a critical edition drawn up by experts to be published. The Bavarian state government, on the other hand, found it particularly difficult, first supporting the publication project of the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) and then stopping the funding.[3]

At this point, however, it is not primarily about the very complex social debate surrounding the edition of My fight walk. Because the fact is, a critical edition was published in 2016.[4] Regardless of how you feel personally or professionally, librarians now have to take a stand against this background. Because with the appearance of the critical edition, almost every major library also has the task of acquiring and making available at least one copy. But how should you make this difficult book accessible to users? In the following, this question will be discussed from the point of view of a university library and answered by way of example.

A look into the respective “poison cabinets” of the libraries or the use of earlier procedures and examples[5] are not helpful in this case. The critical edition of My fight simply has a different dimension than the original editions before 1945 or other inflammatory pamphlets from the time of National Socialism, if only because the latter are uncommented sources that often contain unconstitutional characters.

Furthermore, it must be clear in this context that the critical edition of My fight from this year is available to everyone in bookshops. Even if the book trade has a hard time, understandably not offering them exposed and in stacks, you can at least order it in many branches and online.[6] Original editions or reprints could already be acquired abroad. Ten years ago, a reprint even became a bestseller in Turkey.[7]

In addition, in times of the Internet, it is no longer possible to guarantee that certain texts and books cannot be read or can only be read under supervision. Until the 1990s, the prohibition of reproduction made sense under the aspect of not being sealed, but it has been obsolete since the turn of the millennium at the latest. Anyone with internet access can read the text from My fight view, download and print.[8] This is exactly where there is a great potential for problems. Firstly, it is used unfiltered and without comment. It is possible that this dangerous body of thought can achieve the effect that was once intended: to stir up agitation, fear and hatred towards certain social groups. A commented edition can counteract this with critical comments. There is also a risk that one will have to search for My fight for whatever reason, ended up on right-wing radical websites that still want to see the meaning and truth in this inflammatory pamphlet. In short, everyone who wants, can My fight read, with or without a library.

That is why I advocate the critical edition of My fight not to be treated differently from other scientifically relevant books. For the Magdeburg University Library, this means that three copies were initially purchased and incorporated immediately, also due to a request from a research assistant. Since mid-January 2016, one copy has been available in the Magdeburg University Library for classroom or reading room use, two more copies are in the open access area and can be borrowed at the normal conditions. The decision was made consciously not to place special lending restrictions on the work, but to treat it like any other academic book in the library, given its importance for research and teaching, but also for the interested public. The Magdeburg University Library was thus one of the first libraries to offer its readers the critical edition of My fight provided. This is certainly also because the first edition of 4,000 copies was immediately sold out[9] and some libraries are now waiting for the second edition to appear in February. The specimen was identified in the respective catalogs of comparable institutions, but only marked as ordered or in progress (as of February 1, 2016).

In addition to the realization expressed at the beginning that under-sealing is in fact ineffective, other motives were also decisive. Whether or not the book would be bought was never an issue. As a university library that also has to serve a humanities faculty, the acquisition was necessary, especially since academic staff had explicitly expressed the wish to acquire it.

It now becomes interesting to ask how one should present such a work or make it available? Since this is a scientifically developed critical edition, in my opinion it was advisable to refrain from any censorship. Censorship is not only understood here as blocking, but also as deliberately making access more difficult. One could consider keeping all copies available for reference use only, so that they cannot be made available for loan. Another possibility would be closed storage, which would offer the opportunity to control and monitor every use. Another practicable way in itself would be to determine the availability exclusively for academic staff and those students who could present a reading permit from a lecturer who certifies that this work is to be used for academic purposes. However, since the Magdeburg University Library also feels responsible for an interested public in the city and region, precisely this user group would be excluded. It is also questionable what specific use this censorship should have. One could rather assume that one is also achieving the opposite of all one's efforts. Something that is forbidden or difficult to access always has a certain charm and is interesting at first glance just because of the prohibition. To prevent that from happening, you have to be open and critical about it. It is also an essential part of the educational mandate of a scientific library to provide difficult media and that without hidden censorship.

But what are the consequences? Readers who discreetly identify themselves as rights and are looking for exactly this book in the library? That is quite possible, but at the same time something that an educational institution has to endure. As long as users move within the framework of the rules and regulations in the library, there is no argument to prevent someone from My fight to read there, or to leaf through a book about National Socialism, the Holocaust or a biography of Hitler. Furthermore, not every right-wing reader can be identified as such. Where do you want to come from when you first visit and ask for My fight know whether it's a history student in the first semester or a right-wing student who just doesn't look the way you know it from demonstrations on the news.

Increased number of serious incidents related to the critical edition of My fightsuch as smearing right-wing and anti-constitutional symbols should certainly give cause for reconsideration. For the time being, the position of the Magdeburg University Library is to treat this book in the same way as other media that are important for research and teaching. From today's point of view, everything else would be ineffective on the one hand and censorship that is not appropriate to the matter on the other.

Published Online: 2016-04-12
Published in Print: 2016-04-01

© 2016 by De Gruyter