Today in history: How did Germany’s ‘most dangerous book’ come into existence?

Published on July 18th, 1925, Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' has been described as unreadable but also one of the most powerful and dangerous books of all time. What sparked its publication?

Today in history: How did Germany's 'most dangerous book' come into existence?
'Mein Kampf' at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich in 2015. Photo: DPA

Adolf HItler's 'political testament', first published on the July 18th, 1925, was directly borne out of the Nazi leader's imprisonment in Landsberg Prison. It followed the failed 'Beer Hall Putsch' – or Hitler's attempt to seize Munich and use it as a base of power in a fight against Germany's Weimar Republic Government – of November 8th, 1925.

Arrested shortly afterwards for treason, he was sentenced to five years in prison, at Landsberg Prison, west of Munich. In actuality he'd serve less than a year. 

The main entrance to the Landsberg prison, as seen in 2014. Photo: DPA

In Landsberg, Hitler would come to the realization that the most effective means by which to achieve power was not by force, but by the ballot box. Thus, with not much to do except grow a belly (contemporary sources describe the food as rather plentiful), Hitler began dictating his vision for Germany. This was typed up by fellow prisoners Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess, who were both jailed with Hitler following 'the Putsch'. 

Both of Hitler's 'stenographers' would sit at a typewriter in Hitler's cell, as the Führer-to-be lectured on history, racial theory and geopolitics – often in a grandiose, dramatic fashion. Some have speculated that Maurice and Hess heavily edited Hitler's words to improve readability and clarity, and dictation sessions could last several hours. 

Within the book, much of Hitler's dark dream for Germany is outlined. 'Lebensraum', or living space' is a recurrent theme, calling for Germany to subjugate its eastern neighbours in order to give the German 'Volk' room to prosper. His virulent Antisemitism is also brought to the fore, describing the deleterious effect he thought the Jews had on Germany numerous times. 

Originally sold in two volumes and published by Ever Verlag – the Nazi Party's own publishing house, the book sold modestly initially, mostly to Party members over the second half of the 1920s. It was only once the Nazi Party gained power in 1933 that sales approached anything near a 'bestseller'.  

In addition to the sales it made following Hitler's rose to power, the Nazi state otherwise ensured that nearly everybody had a copy – given to them at school, when they married, or when they joined the armed forces. It was hard to avoid during the years of Nazi rule. 

Documents from Hitler's prison stay were auctioned in 2010. The picture shows (L-R) a letter to a car dealership, a visitor card and a document confirming Hitler's admittance as a prisoner at Landsberg. Photo: DPA

Following the war, publication of the book was suppressed for over 70 years, only lifted in 2016 – and only then in a heavily annotated edition that fact-checks Hitler's claims. Even then, there was an outcry in many sections of German society. 

SEE ALSO: Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' becomes German bestseller, year after reprint

In my opinion, they needn't have bothered. It's when Hitler's words are printed on the page that they lose much of the power they had during his speeches. In fact, given room and space to breathe, most of his prose comes off as the hyperbolic, hateful nonsense it is. 

Put it this way – the book's original title was supposed to be 'Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice'. If that doesn't give you an idea of the kind of pompous, half-baked material we're working with here, nothing will! 

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Hitler’s justly forgotten opera attempt goes on display in Austria

Adolf Hitler's admiration for German composer Richard Wagner is well-documented, but that the Nazi dictator attempted to write an opera himself will come as a surprise to many.

Hitler's justly forgotten opera attempt goes on display in Austria
A page from 'Wieland the Smith' on display at the museum. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
Nevertheless, a page of the work, entitled “Wieland der Schmied” (Wieland the Smith), goes on display to the public for the first time in a new exhibition on the “Young Hitler” opening in Austria this weekend.
A piano sketch of the first page, made by one of Hitler's few friends as a young man, August Kubizek, dates from 1908 when the future Nazi leader would have been around 20.   
Long speculated about, but never before seen in public, the manuscript was apparently written after Hitler had had only a few months of piano lessons, says Christian Rapp, one of the exhibition's curators.
And it clearly demonstrated the future dictator's “inflated sense of his own abilities”, Rapp told AFP.
The single sheet is believed to be the only surviving page of an ambitious project based on Germanic mythology that closely apes an unfinished work of the same name by Wagner himself.
The exhibition, entitled “Young Hitler: the Formative Years of a Dictator”, opens in Sankt Poelten in Lower Austria on Saturday and among the exhibits is a range of objects belonging to Hitler collected by Kubizek between 1907 and
Grandiose delusions
Kubizek initially kept them as mementos of his own youth before later realising they might be of historical importance.
They include letters and postcards written by Hitler to Kubizek, as well as paintings and architectural sketches by the young man — who was born on April 20, 1889 in the Austrian town of Braunau am Inn and whose artistic abilities
regularly fell short of his grandiose ambitions.
He sat the entrance examination for admission to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts in both 1907 and 1908, but failed both times. Nevertheless, Hitler was always quick to find a scapegoat for his failures, said Rapp.
“Whenever something went wrong, it was always somebody else's fault, not his own,” the expert said.
Co-curator Hannes Leidinger said that even those who knew Hitler at a tender age in Austria testified to his “intransigent, aggressive” character.
For Rapp, the young Hitler “was already 'a bomb', if you like. World War I provided the fuse and then it was ignited in Germany — but you can make out the ingredients during his time here in Austria”.
In addition to tracing Hitler's personal history, the exhibition also seeks to explore the political and social context in Austria at the turn of the 20th century.
In particular, it tries to explain how many of the ideas that would gain such prominence in Nazi ideology — racism, anti-Semitism, militarism — had long since reached the mainstream of Austrian society, including among
sections of the left.
Austria has had a complex relationship with its Nazi past. For decades after World War II, successive Austrian governments insisted the country was a victim of the Nazi regime and sought to downplay the
complicity of many Austrians in the Nazis' crimes.
The curators said they hoped the exhibition would help shed light on Hitler's character, and also dispel the ideas that underpinned his genocidal ideology.
“Ways of thinking take so long to become widespread in a society, and they take as long to be dismantled… we will have work at that for decades,” Rapp said.