Historians have responded robustly to the news that a German court has decided to allow the estate of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, to claim royalties for extracts from his diaries in a new biography.
The case was brought on behalf of the family by Cordula Schacht against Random House Germany. It concerns the original 2010 German version of Goebbels by Peter Longerich, professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London, whose English translation was published to great acclaim in May.
The Munich district court ruled in Ms Schacht’s favour on 9 July, although the publisher is now appealing to the German supreme court.
“It’s quite shocking,” said Neil Gregor, professor of history at the University of Southampton, “that these diaries – the ownership of which has passed down through unrepentant far-right circles over the years, and now rests with the daughter of Hitler’s anti-Semitic economics minister Hjalmar Schacht – are being used, effectively, to profit so shamelessly from one of the chief culprits of Nazi genocide.”
With Hitler’s own Mein Kampf due to come out of copyright at the end of this year, Professor Gregor added that “it is even more imperative that the German state use this opportunity to demonstrate that it will not tolerate the commercial exploitation of these uniquely toxic texts, and I hope that it finds a way of putting a stop to this appalling profiteering”.
Equally outraged was David Cesarani, research fellow in history at Royal Holloway, who said that he was “astonished that anyone would want to profit from the activities of Goebbels, who was a racist, an anti-Semite, an accessory to genocide.
“More pertinently, I am worried about the precedent this sets for the many other diaries that scholars have used freely over the last 50 years. However, Peter Longerich is appealing, and we can only hope that the German supreme court will have second thoughts about allowing the descendants of Nazis to make money from the criminality of their forebears.”
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