In Italy, I bought a rare Bompiani edition of Adolf Hitler’s La Mia Battaglia (the Italian translation of Mein Kampf, or “My Struggle,” “My Battle”), the crudely written narrative of the German madman’s struggle for power and his blueprint for world domination and extermination. There were and are hundreds of editions published all over the world from during the Nazi regime, after its defeat, and even today.
While Hitler was in power, the German government purchased six million copies, given as a gift by the regime to all newlyweds in the Reich.
According to Jay Worthington, writing in a 2003 issue of Cabinet magazine, “Hitler earned immense amounts from these sales. By 1945, a total of 8 million copies had sold; at their peak, his royalties reached an estimated $1 million per year.” Nonetheless, some editions noted that no royalties were paid to Hitler.
After the war, the book was outlawed in some countries, but not in the United States. Worthington writes: “Houghton Mifflin kept the book in print, and by 1979 the War Claims Fund had collected $139,000 from sales of Mein Kampf. Houghton Mifflin did not pay these royalties without complaint. In a 1979 letter to the Justice Department, it argued that without a reduction of the royalty rate, rising production costs would force it to raise the hardcover price of Mein Kampf from $15 to $19.95.” He continues, “The company requested that the US reduce the royalty from 15 percent to 10 percent. In the ensuing negotiation, Houghton Mifflin ended up purchasing the American rights to Mein Kampf from the Office of the Alien Property Custodian for $37,254. Over the next two decades, with sales of approximately 15,000 copies per year, the best estimate is that Houghton Mifflin realized profits of somewhere between $300,000 and $700,000 on its 1979 investment of $37,254.” In 2000, Houghton Mifflin agreed to donate all of its Mein Kampf profits to charity, and it continues to do so.
These are just a few of the many jackets and covers for Mein Kampf. Most are rather type-heavy and sensationalist, befitting the author and his turgid prose. But the 1939 Bompiani edition is light-touched and nuanced (though not as comic as Donald Duck’s). This is not their first edition; it was more conventional. So clearly the publisher found sales lagging in Italy, and believed a somewhat jazzed up, modernistic cover would do wonders at the bookstore.