Historical Notes: Hitler's theft of the Third Reich

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The Independent Culture
A PRE-WAR German school text advertises Hitler's Mein Kampf as "a classic masterpiece" and "the new Bible of the People". Booksellers were only allowed to deal in new copies since the literary work of the Fuhrer could not be described as "second-hand".

Already in 1925, the literary agency of Curtis Brown in London, with offices in Berlin, entered into copyright negotiations. Hitler's text - 560 pages of close print - was set up in type and printed in four working days. The translator worked night and day during that period, sending proofs back in batches by taxi. The English edition, rendered as My Struggle, included the unabridged text of the Nazi Party programme. Copies of My Struggle (as well as of Karl Marx's Das Kapital) were among the books officially recommended as gifts to British troops at the Second World War front.

In 1974, in a small apartment in Munich, I interviewed Otto Strasser who by then was the last surviving member of the original band of Nazi Party leaders. When Hitler became German Chancellor, Otto Strasser fled the country and escaped into exile. Under an assumed name he first lived in Prague, then in Switzerland and Canada where he became an informant to the Intelligence Service. Goebbels proclaimed that Strasser was "Hitler's enemy No 1". Strasser alleged that Hitler killed his brother, and stole the "revolutionary idea equal to Das Kapital and The Origin of Species from under the nose of one of my best friends. Without Hitler, Moeller van den Bruck would have became a household name, on a par with Marx and Charles Darwin. But Moeller van den Bruck took his life on the day he realised that Hitler was betraying his ideal."

Arthur Moeller van den Bruck was an enigmatic figure. As a young poet in Berlin and a quintessential Bohemian fin-de-siecle artist in Paris, he befriended Munch, Strindberg and Max Beckmann; he translated Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-eater, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, E.A. Poe and Guy de Maupassant into German.

Then the Great War came. Against the advice of his doctors Moeller van den Bruck, who had entered a private clinic to cure his alcoholic hallucinations and nervous breakdowns, enlisted as a war volunteer and was sent to the Eastern Front. Immediately he collapsed. To relieve his distress and mental pain, he was administered large quantities of opium.

Trying to cope with life in post-war Berlin Moeller van den Bruck, one of the young conservative revolutionaries in Weimar Germany, set out to write his magnum opus in praise of a Thousand Year Reich. On 24 August 1923, The Third Reich was published by Ring-Verlag in Berlin with a first printing of 20,000 copies. But like his literary precursors Nietzsche, Guy de Maupassant and E.A. Poe before him, Moeller van den Bruck succumbed to the horrors of syphilis and was admitted to a mental asylum, where he took his own life. He was laid to rest in the Parkfriedhof Lichterfelde cemetery in Berlin, among a long row of ordinary graves. None of the Berlin newspapers published the customary obituary.

Otto Strasser was ada-mant that Hitler borrowed the title of Moeller van den Bruck's book for his own use and copied his ideas in Mein Kampf, written in 1924, a year after The Third Reich was published. He went on to claim that up to 1930 The Third Reich was widely read and discussed in Germany - much more so than Mein Kampf - and that The Third Reich, not Mein Kampf, was the original Bible of Nazi ideology.

Apparently this got on Hitler's nerves. Storm Troopers stepped in, raided Moeller van den Bruck's home and plundered his library. His private papers and all of his letters and manuscripts were confiscated and stored in the Nazi Archive. With The Third Reich out of the way, Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf was promoted as the highest form of literary art.

Stan Lauryssens is the author of `The Man Who Invented the Third Reich' (Sutton, pounds 18.99).