Desperately Seeking Adolf

My search for Adolf Hitler began on a busy street in downtown Portland amidst a crowd of people whom I don't remember looking either Germanic or one hundred years old, which Hitler was or would be if he was still among us.

This search for the Führer of the Third Reich and author of the best-seller Mein Kampf wasn't so much literal as literary. The thought that spurred me on the first stage was that classic of investigative journalism: "Follow the money." The reasoning being, of course, that money equals power, and power equals trouble with a capital `T' right here in River City--or anyplace else for that matter.

It was an odd thought, and most of the people I mentioned it to said as much--even the ones who knew me. But where, I inquired of them, does the money realized from sales of Mein Kampf go? As I said, most of the folks I asked in idle conversation thought it was a strange thing to worry about, then said no more, having done their duty for rationality and good sense.

Written during a stint in jail by Herr Hitler, Mein Kampf was published in Germany in the mid-Twenties and copyrighted in 1925 and 1927 by a Munich firm. The first complete US edition of the book was published in1939, with a forward by the editors warning of the alarming prospect that the author had recently become the Supreme Ruler of Germany. As everyone (except for a certain, special few) knows by now, they had every right to be worried.

It has remained in print in the United States for most of the period since World War II, and is currently listed in Books in Print from three publishers: from Noontide, in both English and German from Angriff Press (also publishers of Iron Curtain Over America; Red Fog Over America; a variety of books by Nikola Tesla; Ezra Pound, This Difficult Individual; and Chemistry of Powder and Explosives), and its original US publisher, Houghton Mifflin.

It's a book that, as John Chamberlain et. al. expressed in the forward to that US edition, is important. It's too easy to cluck your tongue and think that it's too bad more people didn't read it before Europe exploded, until you think about the fact that five million copies were distributed in Germany before the war, and he may have come to power in part because of a book.

By the Berne international copyright conventions under which Mein Kampf was published, a work is protected for a period of seventy-five years or fifty years past the death of its author, whichever is shorter. That puts Hitler's book toward the end of its term by either standard, but means that it has been covered by copyright restrictions for the period since World War II. More interestingly, that would normally mean that someone has been receiving royalty payments on world-wide sales of the book.

Of course, we aren't talking about just any book, here. It's quite possible that the rules have been stretched or a little bent to accommodate the rather severe repercussions caused by its author. Current editions of the book list a copyright date of 1943, with a renewal of 1971 to--Houghton Mifflin.

"Who'd buy it?" you might wonder. As a seminal text on the mind of the man who brought Germany from post-war ruin to post-war ruin and in the process overran most of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia Minor; oversaw a military complex that produced some of the most dangerous and innovative weapons of the century; and was directly and indirectly responsible for the murder of millions both on the battlefield and off, Mein Kampf is an important part of the library of every serious student of modern European history. Not to mention the odd literate racist. Libraries, colleges and universities, other institutions where knowledge--even of an unpleasant nature--is valued.

We're not talking about exorbitant sums of money--Hitler was no Danielle Steel. But even a half-century of slow sales can add up to something. Follow the money. I called Houghton Mifflin's New York office to do just that.

"Houghton Mifflin."

"Hello, my name's Darrel Plant. I'm a freelance writer and I'm doing an article on one of the books that you publish."

"Which book would that be?"

"Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler"

"I'm not familiar with that title." I was tempted to say it was the book he wrote before he killed all those Jews, but I restrained myself and was passed on to people who had at least heard of the book.

No one at the New York office had any information about where the money went. Houghton Mifflin's editorial offices are in Boston, and New York passed me on.

"Houghton Mifflin."

I decided to be a little more grandiose about my identity, thinking that maybe I'd have more luck. "Hello, my name's Darrel Plant and I'm the editor of Plant's Review of Books. I'm working on an article about one of the titles Houghton Mifflin publishes: Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf."

"Who's the author of that?"

It's a measure of the legacy of Hitler that it's hard to even ask questions about Mein Kampf. Once I got through to someone who knew what I was talking about, I found myself apologizing for such a bizarre interest. Tina English in Houghton Mifflin's editorial department told me, after I had explained myself, that she thought that for a period of time after the war that some monies had been paid to the War Reparations Office. She suggested that I contact Joe Kannon, Houghton Mifflin's operations director in writing, which I did in late July. As of the last week of October [1992], I'm still waiting for a reply.

Mein Kampf is the one of the books that, if civil libertarians were given to banning books, they would most likely ban, but we're not advocating that by any means. We at Plant's would, however, like to think that at least some of the profits from US sales are going to a cause like the Holocaust Memorial or some generally charitable organization. It's not often that a book has such a part in history, it's a shame when one does that the consequences were so vile.


-Darrel A. Plant

For a study of copyright cases relating
to Mein Kampf, see Anders Andersson's
brilliantly-titled Copyreich.

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Last Modified: 18 March 1995 by Darrel Plant
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