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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 our times.

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 But Mein kampf, as offensive as it is, is both an important historical document and, more importantly, a reminder that we should extend vigilance to even those words written by people we dismiss as madmen or kooks.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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