On this day in 1925, Adolf Hitler published the first volume of his seminal piece, Mein Kampf. Entitled A Reckoning, the book outlined Hitler’s upbringing in Austria, increasing anti-Semitism and Darwinian, militaristic worldview. The book also serves to outline Hitler’s personal disdain for the other ‘world evil’ – communism – and his commitment to overthrowing German parliamentary democracy, which he saw as corrupt.
Hitler originally wanted to call his forthcoming book Viereinhalb Jahre (des Kampfes) gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit, or Four and a Half Years (of Struggle) Against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice. Max Amann, head of the Franz Eher Verlag and Hitler’s publisher, is said to have suggested the much shorter “Mein Kampf” or “My Struggle“.
Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria, to Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl. He was the fourth of the six children born to the couple and was only 3-years-old when the family moved from Austria to Germany. He was a very bright child and was very popular at school, but often clashed with his father over his interest in fine arts. This led to Hitler’s detachment from his family and he became a reclusive, discontented, resentful child, with an unstable temperament towards his father. He was deeply attached to his lenient, hard-working mother, whose battle against cancer and consequent demise in December 1908 was a shattering blow to his already upset life. This leads to his portrayal of a tough childhood in Mein Kampf.
Hitler’s ideas relating to anti-semitism were far from original. Initially, he considered himself very liberal and tolerant and sought no quandaries with Jews, even considering the conservative media’s portrayal unworthy of his consideration. Nevertheless, he eventually found himself succumbing to their worldview. As early as the 1870s, Germans like orientalist Paul de Lagarde were calling for the mass eviction of German Jews to Madagascar.
Darwinism, Militarism and Eastern Europe
In the first edition of Mein Kampf, Hitler stated that the destruction of the weak and sick is far more humane than their protection. Apart from this allusion to humane treatment, Hitler saw a purpose in destroying “the weak” in order to provide the proper space and purity for the “strong”.
In the chapter “Eastern Orientation or Eastern Policy”, Hitler argued that the Germans needed Lebensraum in the East, a “historic destiny” that would properly nurture the German people. Hitler believed that “the organization of a Russian state formation was not the result of the political abilities of the Slavs in Russia, but only a wonderful example of the state-forming efficacity of the German element in an inferior race.”
In Mein Kampf Hitler openly stated the future German expansion in the East, foreshadowing Generalplan Ost:
And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period and shift to the soil policy of the future.
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.
Communism and Weimar Democracy
Hitler makes clear in Mein Kampf that he fundamentally believes that Germany needs authoritarian leadership akin to that of the Bismarck or Kaiser. Indeed, it was as a result of his attempted coup – known as the Beer Hall Putsch – that Hitler was imprisoned and set about writing Mein Kampf, believing that he should adjust his course to seize power by constitutional means.
Contradictions and possible sequel
Despite his alleged commitment to the pledges he makes in Mein Kampf, acts like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 show significant pragmatism to avoid a war on two fronts, despite fundamentally challenging the claims made in his book regarding communists and Slavic Europeans.
Following the Nazi party’s poor electoral performance in 1928, Hitler decided to write another book, with greater dedication to foreign policy. The Second Book (or Zweites Buch) was unofficially published in 1945 after Hitler ordered it be sealed in an air raid chamber in 1935 after his publisher refused to publish it in 1928 due to the poor sales of Mein Kampf to that point
The book remains the gospel of many Neo-Nazi groups around the world, and in 2005 it became a best-selling book in Turkey as anti-US sentiment rose in the region following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading to over 100,000 copies being sold. In the US, it is estimated 15,000 copies are sold a year. The state of Bavaria held copyright over the book in Germany until 2016, and following the lapse of this copyright an annotated version was published for us in schools and libraries. When it came on sale on Amazon, it sold out in hours and, as of today, over 85,000 copies have been sold.