Around the Jewish World: Czech Translation of Hitler Book Angers Jews, Human Rights Groups

A Czech publishing house is pressing ahead with a Czech-language translation of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” despite protests by local Jewish leaders, human rights groups and German authorities.

The Prague publisher, Otakar II, is producing up to 10,000 copies of the full text without footnotes or disclaimers, arguing it is a “historical document.”

The Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic has condemned the move, and the group’s executive director, Tomas Kraus, said it is considering launching a lawsuit to prevent distribution of the book in which Hitler spelled out his racist ideology.

The book’s planned publication angered a human rights group, the Czech Freedom Fighters, that also may sue Otakar II.

“If somebody wants to launch the book without any commentaries, it is really fascist propaganda,” said the group’s chairman, Jakub Cermin.

Publisher Michal Zitko meanwhile said Monday he would deny a request made by the German Embassy in Prague not to distribute the book.

“No one has made me think that I should not publish it. Hitler was one of the 10 most important people in history, and he influenced the whole of Europe. This is a historical document about a dead man.”

Zitko argued that the text requires no footnotes.

“People have said there should be some sort of commentary on the text, but I don’t know how long it should be, who should write it and what should be included.”

Zitko also predicted that the publicity surrounding his publishing plans would likely boost sales.

“I had expected some kind of reaction, but not as much as it has had. Thanks to the huge media coverage, the books will obviously be sold.”

The German state of Bavaria, which owns the rights to the book, is now seeking to stop its distribution in the Czech Republic and has asked the German government to take action, according to Czech press reports.

A spokesman for the Finance Ministry of Bavaria told the Czech daily Pravo that the Bavarian authorities had successfully prevented publication of “Mein Kampf” in Croatia, Turkey and Sweden in the early 1990s.

The ministry does not view the book a literary work, the spokesman said, adding that German officials consider it as much a symbol of Nazism as the swastika.

Czech police are now investigating whether publishing the book violates Czech law.

But local lawyers have pointed out that German authorities may not be able to prevent distribution and sales.

“Authors’ rights cease to exist after 50 years,” Prague lawyer Jiri Ternygel told Pravo.

Another Prague lawyer, Katerina Spoulava, agreed, saying that unlike countries in the European Union where copyrights last up to 70 years, the Czech Republic has a 50-year deadline — meaning the book can be freely published.

The Czech Senate meanwhile plans to debate a new copyright law unifying Czech and European laws. Legislation is likely to take effect in December.

Czech language editions of “Mein Kampf” have appeared twice in the past, first in 1936 and later in 1993. Both included explanatory notes, the latter by former Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jiri Hajek.

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