The Struggle to Tame Hitler’s Words

Adolf Hitler’s genocidal manifesto, Mein Kampf (My Struggle), has long been a bestseller. Yet this rambling, wordy, poorly edited rant-cum-blueprint of his messianic mission to save Germany from ruin and restore German greatness in the world, was dictated while serving a short prison sentence for fomenting rebellion in Munich (the Munich Putsch). Volumes One (published in 1925) and Two (1926) sold poorly, but those who read it at the time learned of Hitler’s plan to create an authoritarian Nazi state, with himself as leader, Juden frei, devoid of rights and freedoms and governed with an iron fist under a Swastika flag. By 1933, the year Hitler assumed power, 1,000,000 copies had been sold, and foreign language editions followed. It has recently been conceived and designed as a critical document, with commentaries encircling the main text (and I have covered it from different viewpoints). For this post, I asked the designer, Rudolf Paulus Gorbach, a veteran book maker, to talk about the challenges of re-casting this inflammatory work.

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This is the “original word” of Adolf Hitler and the bible of the Nazi regime. When you were asked to design this, how did you respond? What motivated you to do this?
I was born in 1939 and experienced the post-war period and the frequent concealment of the Hitler era during my childhood. In addition, at the age of about 20, I read this book and was shocked and could not believe that Hitler’s statements were put up with. Thus it was as much a political reaction as the artistic/creative fascination of the complexity of the intended edition.

How long did it take?
Altogether three years. The intensive phase, however, amounted to eight months.

I’ve read large tracts from different editions. It reads as though it was never edited. Did you have to read the entire book before deciding on your design scheme?
No, I didn’t. Before the start of the project it was one chapter plus the comments.

 

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Clearly, you’ve designed Mein Kampf in a scholarly manner for a scholarly audience. What was your process in determining the direction you have taken?
Apart from this book, I’ve been concentrating on scientific books, teaching material, etc., for a long time. Didactic typography is very important to me as well as the whole history of book design. Finally my basic thought was to create a clear visual structure without any fashionable clichès.

Tell me about your type choices.
I decided on Martin Majoor’s FF Scala and FF Scala Sans, after having tried out many types. The type was supposed to be read easily and should not have any connection to typographers possibly working during the Nazi era too. As Scala is a multi-type family, we fortunately did not need a type mixture.

 

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You note in the book that your format was influenced by a Talmudic, multi-language bible with commentaries. How difficult was it for you to coordinate the commentaries and ensure they appeared where they should?
First, we had determined that comments always were to be found on the double-page spread (there are, however, pages where there are so many and long comments that a second double-page was necessary). In order to make it possible to find the comments quickly, they follow on certain grid axes. It was not possible to keep that up all the time so that it happens that the level makes an appearance where the comments become necessary and are numbered. For this reason all pages were individually designed—and corrected—by my partner (and daughter) Dagmar Nathalie Gorbach. Thus Hitler’s statements are being visually surrounded as well.

It must be mentioned that it was the request of the Institute for Contemporary History (Institut für Zeitgeschichte) to develop a plain appearance, something I gladly picked up, and therefore there is no book jacket.

 

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The implication is that this Critical Edition will be an aid to scholars. How do you feel your design has supported this goal?
This form is new in the realm of science. But it could offer to these readers, too, a degree of comfort that could be soothing.

What did you learn from this design experience?
That language, verbalization are the requirements for a functioning text design.

Did you learn anything from Hitler’s words?
Nothing from Hitler. From the whole issue, however, I learned that, after all, the statements of politicians are not necessarily true.


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