December 21, 2001
Remember Mein Kampf
Heather Reisman has removed Adolf Hitler's Mein kampf from
the shelves of her Indigo and Chapters bookstores. As an independent
businessperson, Reisman has the right to stock or remove any book
she pleases. Moreover, it is doubtful that her move had any marked
effect on anyone's holiday gift-buying plans. Nevertheless, Reisman's
decision is an unwise one, historically speaking.
Mein kampf is a epistle of hatred, this is absolutely true.
It is a monument to the capability of humans to envision evil and
then to follow a routinized path to see it to fruition.
But Mein kampf is something more than that. It is also a
monument to the human ability for denial and apathy. Mein kampf
and the reaction to it is the most important cautionary tale of
Hitler's autobiography was completed in 1927. (It was first published
in English translation in 1943.) It was easily accessible to ordinary
people, particularly Germans and anyone who could read German. In
his book, Hitler outlined his plans for the Final Solution and his
image of a master race dominating the planet.
While Charlie Chaplin and Western caricaturists were still portraying
Hitler as a goofy little oddball with a funny moustache, anyone
willing to do so could have read in chilling detail the grotesque
future he planned for Jews, Europeans and the world.
It is certainly true that the Final Solution was such an abominable
use of human imagination that we are still incapable of explaining
how it could have been allowed to come about. It is easy to understand
that people reading Mein kampf would have seen Hitler for
the demented egotist that he was. But they should also have been
capable of seeing the ability of Hitler to see his evil dreams through.
Moreover, Allied leaders of the time, who were struggling against
radical and reactionary elements on the home front during the Depression,
should have been aware of the German people's willingness to scapegoat
and to allow Hitler's dream to be fulfilled.
The fact that most people did not pay attention to Mein kampf
until it was too late is the lesson we must take from the whole
experience. We insist that the Holocaust must never happen again
and we maintain a vigilance about anti-Semitism that is instilled
with our knowledge of 20th-century history. But Mein kampf,
as offensive as it is, is both an important historical document
and, more importantly, a reminder that we should extend vigilance
to even those words written by people we dismiss as madmen or kooks.
This awful book should be on the shelves of libraries and bookstores.
To remove it is to perpetuate our willingness to turn a blind eye
to evil. Do you agree or disagree?
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