By 1925, 35-year-old Adolf Hitler was already a war veteran, leader of a political party, orchestrator of a failed coup, and a prisoner in a German prison. In 1925, he also became a published book author with the release of the first volume of his work Mein Kampf (My Struggle).
The book, whose first volume was largely written during his eight-month imprisonment for his leadership in the failed coup, is a rambling discourse on Hitler’s ideology and goals for the future German state. The second volume was published in December 1926 (however, the books themselves were printed with a 1927 publication date). The text initially suffered from slow sales but, like its author, would soon become a fixture in German society.
Hitler’s Early Years in the Nazi PartyAt the end of World War I, Hitler, like so many other German veterans, found himself unemployed. So when he was offered a position to work as an informant for the newly established Weimar government, he seized the opportunity. His duties were simple; he was to attend the meetings of newly formed political organizations and report upon their activities to government officials who were monitoring these parties.
One of the parties, the German Workers’ Party (DAP), captivated Hitler so much during his attendance that the following spring he left his government position and decided to dedicate himself to the DAP. That same year (1920), the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), or Nazi Party.
Hitler quickly gained renown as a powerful speaker. Within the party’s early years, Hitler is credited with helping the party greatly increase membership through his powerful speeches against the government and the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler is also credited with helping to design the main tenants of the party’s platform. In July 1921, a shake-up occurred within the party and Hitler found himself in the position to replace party co-founder Anton Drexler as the chairperson of the Nazi Party.
The Beer Hall PutschIn the fall of 1923, Hitler decided it was time to seize upon the public’s discontent with the Weimar government and organize a putsch (coup) against both the Bavarian state government and the German federal government. With assistance from the SA, SA leader Ernst Roehm, Herman Göring, and famous World War I General Erich von Ludendorff, Hitler and Nazi Party members stormed a Munich beer hall where members of the local Bavarian government were gathered for an event.
Hitler and his men quickly brought the event to a standstill by setting up machine guns at the entrances and falsely announcing that the Nazis had seized both the Bavarian state government and the German federal government. After a short period of perceived success, several missteps led to the putsch quickly falling apart.
After being shot at in the street by the German military, Hitler fled and hid for two days in the attic of a party supporter. He was then caught, arrested, and placed in Landsberg prison to await his trial for his role in the attempted Beer Hall Putsch.
On Trial for TreasonIn March 1924, Hitler and the other leaders of the putsch were put on trial for high treason. Hitler, himself, faced possible deportation from Germany (due to his status as a non-citizen) or a life sentence in prison. He took advantage of the media coverage of the trial to paint himself as an ardent supporter of the German people and the German state, wearing his Iron Cross for Bravery in WWI and speaking out against the “injustices” perpetrated by the Weimar government and their collusion with the Treaty of Versailles.
Instead of projecting himself as a man guilty of treason, Hitler came across during his 24-day trial as an individual who had the best interests of Germany in mind. He was sentenced to five years in Landsberg prison but would serve only eight months. The others on trial received lesser sentences and some were released without any penalty.
The Writing of Mein KampfLife in Landsberg prison was far from difficult for Hitler. He was permitted to walk freely throughout the grounds, wear his own clothing, and entertain visitors as he chose. He was also permitted to mingle with other prisoners, including his personal secretary, Rudolf Hess, who was imprisoned for his own part in the failed putsch.
During their time together in Landsberg, Hess served as Hitler’s personal typist while Hitler dictated some of the work that would become known as first volume of Mein Kampf.
Hitler decided to write Mein Kampf for a two-fold purpose: to share his ideology with his followers and also to help recoup some of the legal expenses from his trial. Interestingly, Hitler originally proposed the title, Four-and-a-Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice; it was his publisher who shortened it to My Struggle or Mein Kampf.
Volume 1The first volume of Mein Kampf, subtitled “Eine Abrechnung” or “A Reckoning,” was written mostly during Hitler’s stay in Landsberg and ultimately consisted of 12 chapters when it was published in July 1925.
This first volume covered Hitler’s childhood through the initial development of the Nazi Party. Although many of the book’s readers thought it would be autobiographical in nature, the text itself only uses Hitler’s life events as a springboard for long-winded diatribes against those he viewed as inferior, particularly the Jewish people.
Hitler also frequently wrote against the political scourges of Communism, which he purported was directly linked to the Jews, whom he believed were attempting to take over the world.
Hitler also wrote that the present German government and its democracy was failing the German people and that his plan to remove the German parliament and instate the Nazi Party as the leadership would save Germany from future ruin.
Volume 2Volume two of Mein Kampf, subtitled “Die Nationalsozialistische Bewegung,” or “The National Socialist Movement,” consisted of 15 chapters and was published in December 1926. This volume was intended to cover how the Nazi Party was founded; however, it was more of a rambling discourse of Hitler’s political ideology.
In this second volume, Hitler layed out his goals for future German success. Crucial to the success of Germany, Hitler believed, was gaining more “living space” or lebensraum. He wrote that this gain should be made by first spreading the German empire to the East, into the land of the inferior Slavic peoples who should be enslaved and their natural resources confiscated for the better, more racially pure, German people.
Hitler also discussed the methods he would employ to gain the support of the German populace, including a massive propaganda campaign and the rebuilding of the German military.
Reception for Mein KampfThe initial reception for Mein Kampf was not particularly impressive; the book sold roughly 10,000 copies in its first year. Most of the book’s initial purchasers were either Nazi Party faithfuls or members of the general public who were wrongly anticipating a scandalous autobiography. By the time Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, approximately 250,000 copies of the book’s two volumes had been sold.
Hitler’s ascension to the chancellorship breathed new life into sales of Mein Kampf. For the first time, in 1933, sales of the full edition eclipsed the one million mark. Several special editions were also created and distributed to the German people. For instance, it became customary for every newlywed couple in Germany to receive a special newlywed’s edition of the work. By 1939, 5.2 million copies had been sold.
At the outset of World War II, additional copies were distributed to each soldier. Copies of the work were also customary gifts for other life milestones such as graduations and births of children. By the war’s end in 1945, the number of copies sold rose to 10 million. However, despite its popularity on the printing presses, most Germans would later admit that they had not read the 700-page, two-volume text to any great extent.
Mein Kampf TodayWith Hitler’s suicide and the conclusion of World War II, the property rights of Mein Kampf went to the Bavarian state government (since Munich was Hitler’s last official address before the Nazi seizure of power). Leaders in the Allied-occupied portion of Germany, which contained Bavaria, worked with Bavarian authorities to institute a ban on the publication of Mein Kampf within Germany. Upheld by the reunified German government, that ban has continued since that time.
In 2015, the copyright on Mein Kampf will expire and the work will become part of the public domain, thus negating the ban. In an effort to prevent the book from further becoming a tool of neo-Nazi hatred, the Bavarian state government has begun a campaign to publish annotated editions in several languages with hopes that these educational editions will become more popular than editions published for other, less noble, purposes.
Mein Kampf still remains one of the most widely published and known books in the world. This work of racial hatred was a blueprint for the plans of one of the most destructive governments in world history. Once a fixture in German society, there is hope that today it can serve as a learning tool to prevent such tragedies in future generations.