It would be difficult, in fact near impossible, to find a figure more universally loathed than Adolf Hitler.
The Nazi leader responsible for the deaths of million of Jews, Romany, homosexuals and any other so-called undesirables, had very few redeeming qualities and doesn’t have many fans, except among those equally unhinged on the fringes of society.
So, why would his manifesto, in which he first lays bare his anti-Semitic, genocidal and sometimes outright insane views, be on sale in modern South Africa? And further still, why would the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) see no problem with the sale of the manifesto in its current incarnation?
Mein Kampf (My Struggle) is Hitler’s autobiography-cum-manifesto, in which he described his radicalisation and reasons behind his anti-Semitism and political ideologies. He wrote the two volumes of the book during his imprisonment for his failed Munich Putsch in November 1923.
It was first released in 1925 and volume 2 followed a year later.
In it, Hitler laid out his hatred of both Jews and Marxists, placing on these groups the blame for nearly all Germany’s woes. The country had, of course been facing severe hardship at the time due to the sanctions placed on it by the Treaty of Versailles, following the First World War.
The treaty had forced Germany to “accept the responsibility for causing all the loss and damage” of the war, as well as completely disarm, cede land to France and pay reparations of 132 billion German Marks (approximately R519 billion).
Instead of conceding blame for Germany’s role in the war, Hitler laid the blame for all this at the door of “the Jewish peril” and “the Jewish doctrine of Marxism”, which he believed was part of a conspiracy for world domination.
The book laid the groundwork for much of Nazi Germany’s later war crimes and atrocities, with several passages interpreted as pointing towards the coming genocide and already alluding to the use of poison gas to eliminate what he referred to as “Hebrew corrupters of the nation”.
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He also promotes his ideas of racial purity and the creation of a superior race through the elimination of those considered weak and sick.
Mein Kampf was published for several years and became a popular gift to Nazi party members during Hitler’s reign, but after his death copying or printing of the book was banned by the Bavarian government, to whom the copyright passed.
This continued until 2016, when the copyright expired, allowing it to be published in Germany for the first time since 1945. That very year, the book sold 85,000 copies in Germany.
‘Hitler, Mein Kampf – Eine kritische Edition’, ‘Hitler, My Struggle – A critical Edition’ in English, is seen in a bookstore in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, on 8 January 2016. Institut fuer Zeitgeschichte’ (Institute for contemporary history) published an annotated version of ‘Mein Kampf’. Picture: Arash Sadeghian/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
It has been in print internationally throughout the period of its German banning and in 2020 Amazon tried to ban the book from its online retail platform. This ban did not last long though, and it was reinstated after just a few weeks due to complaints about censorship.
Within a few weeks of it becoming available again, the book rose from being ranked 50,000th on the site to 3,115th
Several South African online outlets, including Makro, Takealot.com and Loot.co.za offer the book for sale, along with a multitude of historical tomes.
In response to The Citizen’s inquiries regarding its sale, corporate affairs executive at Massmart Brian Leroni said Makro was simply offering a platform for the bookseller and was not personally responsible for its sale.
“The book is not listed by Makro,” Leroni said. “It is, however, sold on our online marketplace by an independent distributor. We have directed the distributor to consider the option of a disclaimer which we consider to be a sensible intervention.”
Nazi propaganda manifesto autobiography by German leader Adolf Hitler was available for sale on some South African online stores. PICTURE: Screenshot
Despite the book’s message, the continued sale thereof in South Africa has been defended by an unlikely group.
According to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the sale of the book should be viewed in context and as long as there is an addendum to it which warns the reader about its contents, selling it should be allowed.
The particular version of Mein Kampf on sale locally does include a scholarly overview about the dangers of the book and its ideologies, the SAJBD said.
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It would, however, be problematic should the book be sold without an introductory section contextualising it, as it would imply its contents are being endorsed, says associate director David Saks.
“In this particular case, though, the issue of Mein Kampf on sale does include a preliminary scholarly overview that goes into detail about the noxious and dangerous nature of the book and what the ideology it propagated led to. As such, it could be said to fulfil a constructive educational function, and hence there are no valid grounds for objecting to its sale,” he said.
Susprisingly, while the SAJBD have defended the book’s sale on the merit of its academic significance, an academic believes the sale thereof is regrettable.
The sale of books such as Mein Kampf speaks of the “tone-deafness of capitalism” when it comes to marginalised groups, says sociology lecturer at University of the Free State Nombulelo Shange.
During a time of “woke culture” and marginalised groups being able to openly express themselves through social media, it appears there remains some sort of resistance, she says.
Comparing the book to a poisonous substance, she says there is no place for such content in society.
“Through these ideas that Hitler was writing, eventually they came into practice in very real and damaging ways which still have an impact in society even today. I think works like this are poisonous and they don’t have a space at all in our society.”