On an evening this June, at his three-storey house in the German city of Mainz, Hanns Dieter Lohnes showed me his personal library. On a crowded bookshelf, standing out next to dog-eared literary classics and art magazines, was the book I had come to discuss with him: a 1938 copy of Mein Kampf (My Struggle), the autobiography and manifesto of the Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. The Nazi emblem—a swastika and an eagle—was embossed in gold on the midnight-blue dust jacket.
Lohnes, an 82-year-old lawyer, is remarkably agile for his age. When he was only a small boy, and the Nazis had risen to power in Germany, nearly all of his male relatives were conscripted into Hitler’s army. “It was only natural that I wanted to know more about the Nazi propaganda that influenced my childhood, so I bought the book at a second-hand dealer in the 1950s,” he told me.
Nearly every German family during the Second World War, Lohnes said, had a copy of Mein Kampf. “The Nazis, like my girlfriend’s parents at that time, proudly owned it. And the others were forced to own it.” By the time Hitler’s regime was toppled, in 1945, 12 million copies of the book had been sold. In 1944, when the last wartime edition was printed, the book was in its 1,031st edition. Lohnes’s antique copy was a three-hundred-and-twelfth edition.