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How Was ‘Mein Kampf’ Handled in The Book Review in 1943?


On Sunday, Oct. 17, 1943, these pages contained a book review of “Mein Kampf.” As part of a special issue marking the anniversary of the end of World War II, with reviews of new books on the fallout from the atomic bomb, Poland’s role in the war and a new biography of Hitler, The Book Review has decided to revisit it.

We can only imagine the debates among editors then about how to handle this first “definitive” English translation of Hitler’s political manifesto. The full horror of what was then transpiring in Europe exists only between the lines of the review — in the knowledge that Hitler’s genocidal vision was being fully realized as this went to press.

Three days before the review ran, there was an uprising at the Sobibor extermination camp where at least 170,000 Jews had already been killed in gas chambers. A day after the review ran, a thousand Jews were rounded up in Rome and began their train journey to Auschwitz. The reviewer, William S. Schlamm, an Austrian-American journalist, could not know any of this. But he did know that the Book Review was taking on the Nazis with the only weapon we’ve ever had in our arsenal: the interrogation of language.

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