Copies of the first volume of “Mein Kampf” were handed out gratis throughout Italy with the June 11, 2016, edition of Il Giornale. The publishers of the right-leaning daily, owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, defended their decision by arguing that in order to reject the work, the public needs to know it. Mainstream politicians and Jewish groups, however, protested the move.
Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic manifesto “Mein Kampf” was first published in Italian in the late 1930s with the help of Italy’s Nazi-allied fascist government. The screed was printed again in the 1960s, with subsequent editions in 2002 and 2006. The edition given out to Il Giornale readers included annotations by contemporary historian Francesco Perfetti, but was based on the fascist 1937 version.
Less than a year after the widespread giveaway, two Italian researchers have published the first full-length annotated critical edition of “Mein Kampf.” Their impetus, one scholar told The Times of Israel, is that in an age of rampant populism it is necessary to understand Hitler’s way of thinking. It was time to present the book in a new light as annotations attached to the old version are insufficient.
“We decided to translate ‘Mein Kampf’ since we found the book to be the perfect example of how dangerous modern politics can be. Hitler can be considered the father of European populism,” said Vincenzo Pinto, Italian historian of Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The dictator, “understood very well how to conjugate modern mass media and atavistic instincts of people in order to build a political project,” said Pinto.
In other words, Pinto argued, the Nazi leader portrayed himself as a doctor who discovered the condition plaguing the German nation — the Jewish people.
However, despite the current tides of populist and far-right ideologies gaining strength in Europe, “I don’t think we need to be afraid of a second Hitler,” said Pinto. “I think populism is a cultural and epochal phenomenon which arose between the 19th and 20th century under the birth of the modern mass society. Today we are living in a post-factual world and it seems a sort of posthumous victory for Hitler.”
Lessons must be learned from the past, he continued. “Hitler was a human being and therefore a political phenomenon. As such, he can be understood and contrasted through political means. But it is important to deeply understand him. This is the main goal of my work.”
The new edition of “La Mia Battaglia,” published last month, was translated and annotated by Pinto and his late wife, Alessandra Cambatzu, a Sardinian Germanist and Yiddish scholar with Jewish roots. Cambatzu died last September.
“The most important and innovative scientific outcome of our edition is the revolutionary use of the ‘divinatory-evidential paradigm’ by Hitler,” Pinto told The Times of Israel in a recent email interview. “This helps us to understand his magnetism and partially solve the so-called enigma of consensus.”
Pinto, who also edits Free Ebrei (Free Jews) — an online journal devoted to contemporary Jewish identity — has published extensively about anti-Semitism and Zionism, including Italian editions of the writings of Theodor Herzl and Ze’ev Jabotinsky. In 2015, about half a year before the German copyright was set to expire and allow German publishers to publish their own critically annotated edition of the book, Pinto and his wife decided to do the same for an Italian-speaking audience.
“We decided to publish the critical edition since we thought it would be important to furnish a serious analysis of Hitler’s book,” he said. “Secondly, we have a new theoretical key to understand ‘Mein Kampf.’ Third, we were pushed by a didactical purpose: the better way to overcome the past is to prepare the future, i.e. to teach the ‘humanity’ of evil and to let the ‘sons’ grew stronger then the ‘fathers.’ But the way to overcome the evil is to know and to accept it.”
Pinto’s critical edition of “Mein Kampf” was received positively by academia, though not all scholars of Nazism share his emphasis on Hitler’s populism.
‘A great part of German society at least partially shared Hitler’s views and didn’t need much propaganda to follow him’
“For me a too-strong emphasis on Hitler’s propaganda covers up the fact that a great part of German society at least partially shared Hitler’s views and didn’t need much propaganda to follow him,” said Othmar Plöckinger, co-editor of the recent German critical edition of “Mein Kampf.”
“The structure of the edition seems to be reasonable and wise,” Plöckinger said about the new edition of “La Mia Battaglia,” “especially the introductory parts to each chapter. But I am not very happy that there are pictures in the middle of the chapters — though that might be necessary for Italian readers.”
Even before the new critical version of “Mein Kampf” appeared in German and became a bestseller in January 2016, Jewish groups opposed the book’s republication, arguing that Hitler’s poisonous ideas should not be given a broad platform.
Pinto sympathizes with those who would like to bury Hitler’s ideas but, naturally, argues that it was better to scientifically dissect them rather than to have curious people read uncritical editions widely available on the internet and elsewhere.
“I understand the feelings of many people who experienced the Shoah and fear the return of anti-Semitism in Europe,” he said.
But, he added, “I think that it is very important to understand the logic and the construction of Hitler’s myth and politics in order to better struggle against such enemies of the Jewish people and humanity.”
While the new critical edition of ‘Mein Kampf’ wasn’t published until 2015, older ones were easily found through antiquary libraries and online.
“A critical edition can help to demolish the myth and to understand how it can survive in other forms through different ages and places,” said Pinto.