Say the name Adolf Hitler and an immediate reaction is evoked in the hearts and minds of many, based on the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi dictator specifically against those of Jewish descent. Now that name has reemerged as an annotated edition of his autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” or “My Struggle,” was released Jan. 8 in Germany, following the expiration of a 70-year copyright.
Local educators and others involved with Holocaust remembrance have mixed feelings about the new edition, the first in Germany since the end of World War II. Some say to ignore the book, while others say it may be used to provide historical perspective.
Sharon Glassberg serves as vice president of programming for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and director of the Coalition for Jewish Education. She says this work must be acknowledged, but used for educational purposes.
“On one hand, I think people could have always gotten a hand on it, whether it was in circulation or not, but re-releasing it out in the public, with or without notes, we’re always in danger of it reinvigorating, for lack of a better word, the neo-Nazi movement all over the world,” she says. “It may fuel what has been going on, and give people a more practical literary handbook that may be used not in the most positive sense.”
The Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, Germany, published an initial 4,000 copies of the book, which sold out on the first day. Since then, an additional 15,000 copies have been ordered, with requests to translate the new edition into multiple languages.
The new edition of the book also features more than 3,000 notes contradicting Hitler’s words and clarifying history. The institute said it published the new edition to preempt uncritical and unannotated versions and that it hopes the new edition will help destroy the book’s cult status. “Mein Kampf” can also easily be found on the Internet, as the copyright restriction only applied to publication in Germany.
Glassberg says she fears current terrorist groups throughout the world might see this book as a guide for future crimes against humanity.
“I think in the wrong hands, it could act to validate what they are doing in their minds and that’s something that’s really tough to take,” she says. “Anything that, in their minds, might back up what they’re doing and give them a platform, I think it’s always dangerous.”
A focus should be placed on using this book as an educational opportunity, says Glassberg, who is also principal of Tucson Hebrew High.
“It has to be a dialogue and we can’t turn our backs on the fact that it’s coming out and being rereleased and ignore it,” she says. “I think to do that, we’re doing a disservice.
“In Hebrew High every week, each class starts out with a ‘did you know’ piece that focuses on one of our six curricular areas and we will be putting this into our classrooms [within two weeks] as a discussion point,” Glassberg says.
Student trips to Israel and Europe bring tens of thousands of students from around the world every year to learn about Jewish culture and history. The annual March of the Living trip provides an opportunity for students to walk through Holocaust concentration camps in Poland before continuing on to Israel.
Cameron Busby participated in the March of the Living in the spring of 2014 and graduated from Tucson Hebrew High in May 2015. He says he felt a duty to learn some of the history of his own Jewish roots.
“The Holocaust was a horrible thing that happened to our people. I think it’s a responsibility to be a witness and see it first-hand,” he says.
Busby understands the conflicting thoughts about the new “Mein Kampf” edition, but believes it can do more harm than good.
“I’ve never read it, and I never plan to read it, but I know that it’s about his political ideology and it kind of gained him leverage politically,” he says. “The way to educate this new generation is to teach about the Shoah in school. There are a lot of [other] books about the Holocaust and what went on at that time.”
Rosie Eilat Kahn is a prominent voice in the Tucson Jewish community. She is the chairperson of Holocaust education through the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and daughter of Holocaust survivors Susan and Meyer Neuman. She has mixed feelings about the book.
“I think that it’s scary in that it could incite more people because of the increased anti-Semitism in Israel now, but I know that Germany has tried to make amends, and has done their best to try and take some responsibility for what they’ve done,” she says. “What’s frightening is that with the increased anti-Semitism in the youth, it could incite more problems for the Jews.”
Eilat Kahn says her generation might have a different reaction to the Holocaust and this book than future generations.
“My children have a connection to the Holocaust because they were very close to my parents, but [as for] their children, I don’t know what type of connection they’ll have to the Holocaust,” she said. “I don’t know, if they were to read that, if they would have the same feelings as I would, or my kids would.
“I think we need to keep awareness and continue to tell the story of the Holocaust so that we are aware of it and that we make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
Thomas Price, a faculty member at the University of Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, will present a five-week adult education series, “Anti-Semitism: How We Got to Where We Are Today,” beginning Jan. 25 at the Tucson Jewish Community Center. Organized by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson J, the series is a truncated version of his course “The History of Anti-Semitism,” which some students believe is so in-depth it warrants two semesters.
A former U.S. diplomat, Price does not believe the re-release of “Mein Kampf” adds to an increase in anti-Semitism, but says economic conditions are a more likely culprit.
“I do think there’s probably an uptick in anti-Semitism in Europe as a result of the general economic turn down there,” he said. “Historically in Europe, when economic times have been hard, people [blame] the Jews. I don’t think it’s limited to France, or Germany, or any particular place, I think it’s prevalent all over.”
To register for the series, visit tucsonjcc.org or call 299-3000, ext. 147.
Michael Miklofsky is a freelance writer living in Oro Valley with his wife and three daughters. He also is a Realtor® with Realty Executives Tucson Elite and director of marketing for The Shoe House, Inc.