Mein Kampf: Definition, Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about Adolf Hitler's book, 'Mein Kampf.' We will explore the historical context surrounding the writing of the book, and we will identify the central themes of the book. We will understand the ideology Hitler expressed in this book.

Mein Kampf: Hitler's Hate-filled Book

Not everyone realizes that Adolf Hitler, one of the most notorious men to have ever lived, actually wrote a book. That's right. In 1925, Hitler published an autobiographical work called Mein Kampf, or ''My Struggle.'' The book outlines Hitler's worldview and his plans for the resurgence of Germany (which had been devastated by its defeat in World War I in 1918).

Mein Kampf is hate-filled and reveals Hitler's racism toward the Jewish people (and toward Slavic people groups as well). In many passages, Hitler is quite explicit about what should be done with Germany's Jewish population. German nationalism, anti-Semitism, and elements of Social Darwinism figure heavily into Mein Kampf. Despite its dark themes, Mein Kampf is an invaluable book for historians seeking to understand who Adolf Hitler was. The book allows readers to get a glimpse into the mind of possibly the world's greatest megalomaniac. Let's dig deeper and learn more about this book.

The cover of an early German edition of Mein Kampf

Historical Context: The Beer Hall Putsch and Landsberg Prison

In the early 1920s, the National Socialist German Worker's Party, or the Nazi Party, was just one of many political parties in Germany. Led by a fanatical and charismatic leader named Adolf Hitler, the party was intent on overthrowing the liberal government of the time, commonly called the Weimar Republic. In 1923, Hitler and his followers organized what has been called the Beer Hall Putsch.

This was a military coup aimed at overthrowing the local government of Bavaria. The coup failed, and as a result Hitler was put in prison. Hitler only served nine months in Landsberg Prison. At his trial he used the spotlight to cast himself as a freedom fighter waging war against decadence. Hitler's imprisonment also gave him the perfect opportunity to write a part autobiography, part political treatise. It was in Landsberg Prison that Hitler wrote Mein Kampf.

Mein Kampf: Central Themes and Overview

Mein Kampf is divided into two sections called volumes. Volume one was published in 1925, and volume two was published the following year. The first volume deals with Hitler's past. He discusses his childhood, and most historians agree this section contains many embellishments for propaganda purposes. Certain aspects of his family background are purposely left out. We see aspects of nationalism early on as Hitler expresses the greatness of Germany. Throughout his narrative, he interjects political commentary. For example, in chapter three, Hitler expresses what he considers the failures of democracy. Instead, he favors a strong, authoritarian government.

He discusses Germany's defeat in World War I. He blames the Jews for Germany's defeat in the war. Throughout his life, Hitler would refer to the German Jews living at the end of World War I as the ''November Criminals'' (the armistice ending the war took place in November). In Hitler's view, left-wing Jews betrayed Germany by facilitating the surrender of the ''Fatherland.'' This line of thinking on the part of Hitler has often been called the ''Stab-in-the-back'' view. Hitler believed the Jews had stabbed Germany in the back. The book is filled with Anti-Semitism throughout. In some passages, Hitler even speaks of ''the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.''

Adolf Hitler in World War I

Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism was popular around the world during the early 20th century. This philosophy applies the Darwinian concepts of ''survival of the fittest'' to society at large. According to this view, the races and people groups that are ''stronger'' or ''fitter'' have a natural right to consume (and conquer) those that are weaker. Hitler was a firm believer in this idea, and he believed that weak people groups were destined to fail and should not be given assistance in their survival. For example, he writes: ''He who would live must fight. He who doesn't wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.''

Hitler goes on to discuss the humble origins of the Nazi Party. He also analyzes the role of propaganda and revolution. In regard to propaganda, he writes: ''The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses.''

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