BROWSING the shelves of Fremantle Library for the latest bestseller recently, local resident Charlie Dortch says he was “bewildered and affronted” to come across a copy of one of the most infamous books of all time: Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
The former curator of anthropology at the WA Museum, Dr Dortch said his outrage grew when his 15-year-old granddaughter revealed Mein Kampf was also on the shelves of the library at John Curtin College of the Arts.
“Let’s not mess about: the book is the Nazi bible and should not be on the shelves of any library apart from those used by researchers of political history,” Dr Dortch said.
“Among these I would include the State Reference Library and all university libraries, but not school or municipal libraries.”
Written while Hitler was in prison from 1923/25, Mein Kampf is both an autobiography and a political manifesto. Now widely reviled for its virulent anti-semitism, the book has also been criticised for being badly written and incoherent.
The library defended the book’s inclusion on the shelves.
“The aim of any library collection is to make accessible materials to support a broad range of views and to enable their communities to make their own informed decisions,” a spokesperson said.
“Fremantle library, and public libraries generally, adhere to the Australian Library and Information Association’s policy on free access to information.”
This policy is based on Article 19 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression.
However, Article 29 of the declaration states freedom of expression can be limited if it threatens the “rights and freedoms of others” or the “just requirements of morality”.
Peter Wertheim, Co-CEO of the council of Australian Jewry, warned the book encouraged prejudice against the Jewish community, a phenomenon on the rise.
“On February 25, 2020, the director-general of ASIO Mike Burgess warned about the rapid increase in neo-Nazi activity in Australia,” Mr Wertheim said.
“We would ask any public library to consider carefully the use that such groups would make of the editions of Mein Kampf that they currently make available.”
In 1945, the book was banned in Germany, but the copyright expired in 2016 and it entered the public domain. A critical, annotated edition became an unlikely bestseller. The copy held by the Fremantle library isn’t annotated, but has a critical introduction and afterword, unlike many of the free-to-download online editions.
Leigh Straw, a history professor at Notre Dame, said critical editions could be useful in understanding Hitler’s thoughts, but only when read alongside credible histories of the holocaust.
“It’s a very poorly written book which only came to any prominence in Germany because of the rise of the Nazi Party,” Dr Straw said.
In addition to Mein Kampf, the library contains many WWII histories and commentaries. The online-catalogue page offers a collection of “self-education anti-racism resources”.
But to Dr Dortch, these other texts don’t make the presence of Hitler’s book acceptable.
“I am among the scores of millions who need not read the not very intelligent words of the hellish deceiver who did far more than any other individual to instigate the most hideously cruel war in modern history,” he said.
by LOTTIE ELTON