Boston College is hosting a conference analyzing Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and the precursors to the Holocaust Thursday and Friday in commemoration of the tragedy. The conference is a tribute to Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day in English—which begins the evening of May 1 and ends the evening of May 2.
The copyright to Hitler’s infamous autobiography expired in 2016, freeing up the book for much more thorough academic analysis. The copyright was held by the regional government of Bavaria, which banned the reprinting of the book, significantly hampering analytical efforts. After the expiration of the copyright, Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History re-published a critical edition of Mein Kampf in German with numerous annotations from leading scholars.
“This is the best understanding of Hitler’s ideology up to today,” said John J. Michalczyk, a professor of art history and film at BC. “This is the first conference, as far as I know, in the United States on analyzing the work as it stands.”
Mein Kampf, meaning “my struggle,” was first written by Hitler while he was in prison for a failed coup in Bavaria. It proclaims the racist Nazi ideology that would eventually take over Germany and lead to a mass genocide of 11 million people, a majority of which were Jewish.
As the copyright expiration of Hitler’s manifesto coincides with a global rise in nationalism and anti-Semitism, there has been some backlash to the move to re-publish the book, with fears that insights into Hitler’s ideology will inspire more hate as fringe groups take the analysis out of context.
“The whole notion in framing the conference isn’t to give credit or popularize Hitler’s work,” said Susan A. Michalczyk, professor of literature at BC and John’s wife. “It’s more to say as he started this, let us look now at the world today, the rise of nationalism, dislike of the ‘other,’ the foreigner, anti-Semitism is on the rise.
“So in all the work we do, it’s always taking the topic and then relating it to current socio-political and economic issues … and then using this opportunity as a moment to educate, enlighten, and prick the conscience of people.”
John also mentioned the similarities between the years preceding the Holocaust and the contemporary world, noting that the trailer to a follow-up documentary splices footage of Nazis and the 2017 neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Va.
Susan added that the Holocaust is of particular interest for studying the exclusion of outside groups because it marked the first time in human history where mass killings occurred out of choice, not necessity. The victims of the Holocaust were not victims of war but rather victims of ideology, according to Susan.
The conference is the first of threefold project, and it will be followed by a documentary and book of essays on the subject. The essays, according to John, will consist in part of refined versions of the presentations from the conference. Fifteen speakers are listed on the program, in addition to two exhibits and a candle-lighting ceremony at the end.
The Michalczyks also noted that the conference comes at a time with few remaining Holocaust survivors and stressed the importance of gaining first-hand testimony to document what really happened.
“When these people are gone, who’s there to tell the story,” Susan said.
“What do we want to remember, and what do we want to forget?” John said.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor