Saturday, July 18, 2009

Adolf Hitler Publishes First Volume of Mein Kampf (1925)

Following the failed Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler went into hiding. However, he was arrested on November 11, 1923, was remanded in custody, and, after a 24-day trial, found guilty of high treason and sentenced to five years imprisonment (of which the term was to be reduced by four months and two weeks for the time served in prison prior to and during the trial). Presiding Judge Neithhardt was convinced that Hitler and the other members of the Kampfbund had acted honorably, and Hitler was therefore eligible for parole in six months and also to be given the privilege of Festungshaft (imprisonment without penal labor). This permitted Hitler a steady flow of visitors and a desk in his cell.

Hitler was allocated Cell No. 11 of the Fortress Landsberg prison. A subsequent trial pertaining to the putsch saw Hitler’s chauffeur Emil Maurice and close associate Rudolf Hess imprisoned for five years, though they too would be eligible for release in six months. During this time in prison, Hitler underwent something of an epiphany with regards to his use of violence: from now on everything was to be ostensibly legal.

Having chosen this new move, Hitler felt that he needed to make sure that the public knew what he stood for, so began to dictate a book to Hess and Maurice, part-autobiography but also a political treatise. While imprisoned, Hitler’s first often overlooked contribution to the literary world was released, a small 24-page self-written booklet entitled ‘What Happened On November 8?’ aimed at clearing up confusion and rumor amidst both the party ranks and presumably some members of the public.

A poster shows that Hitler originally wanted to call his forthcoming book ‘Viereinhalb Jahre [des Kampfes] gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit’ (Four and a Half Years of Fighting Against Stupidity, Lies and Cowardice). Hess is said to have suggested the much shorter Mein Kampf (often translated as "My Struggle", its meaning could also be conveyed as "My Fight").

Though Hitler had received many visitors earlier on, he soon devoted himself entirely to the writing (or rather the dictation) of the book. As Hitler continued, he realised that it would have to be a two-volume work, with the first volume scheduled for release in early 1925. The prison governor of Landsberg noted at the time that ‘he [Hitler] hopes the book will run into many editions, thus enabling him to fulfill his financial obligations and to defray the expenses incurred at the time of his trial.’

Once released from prison on December 20, 1924, Hitler moved back to the picturesque mountainous climes of the Obersalzberg, to which he had been introduced by his mentor Dietrich Eckart, who had been at Landsberg with Hitler for a few weeks (imprisoned for eighteen months for his role in the putsch) before his health failed and he was released. By day, Hitler dictated his second volume of Mein Kampf to Eckart before sleeping, first at a room in the nearby Hotel Pension Moritz and later a rented cottage just a stone’s throw away from Haus Wachenfeld, over which he would later construct his Berghof as chancellor of Germany.

On July 15, 1925, Franz Eher Nachfolger, later to become the publishing house of the NSDAP, released Mein Kampf: Eine Abrechnung (A Retrospect) at a run of a mere 500 copies. Though by no means popular, people were said to have contacted Eher asking for a larger run, which resulted in the publication of a second edition of the first volume in mid-1926. The second volume, Die Nationalsozialistische Bewegung (The National Socialist Movement) was released in December 1926. It was only ever published as a first edition after which Mein Kampf was only available as a two-volume work.

During Hitler’s time in power (1933-1945), it came to be available in three common editions. The first, the Volksausgabe (People's Edition), featured the original cover on the dust jacket and was navy blue underneath with a gold swastika eagle embossed on the cover. The Hochzeitsausgabe (Wedding Edition), in a slipcase with the seal of the province embossed in gold onto a parchment-like cover was given free to marrying couples and in 1940, the Tornister-Ausgaube, a compact but unabridged edition in a red cover, was released by the post office for parents and partners to send to loved ones at the front.

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