BERLIN — Publish Hitler's infamous memoir "Mein Kampf" in Germany? It sounds like the ultimate taboo.
But a group of German historians is lobbying to do just that, arguing that it's necessary to get an authoritative annotated edition ready for bookshops by the time the copyright runs out in 2015, opening the way for neo-Nazi groups to publish their own versions.
The memoir has been under a de facto publishing ban in Germany since the end of World War II, with the government body that holds the rights refusing to let anybody print it.
Bavaria's Finance Ministry has rejected proposals by Munich's Institute for Contemporary History to publish the tome, but there has been growing support for the idea. This past week, the state's science minister emerged as an energetic backer of printing a critical edition.
"Once Bavaria's copyright expires, there is the danger of charlatans and neo-Nazis appropriating this infamous book for themselves," Wolfgang Heubisch said Thursday.
Edith Raim, a historian at the Munich institute, envisions a thorough, academic presentation that places Hitler's work in historical context. She says that would be the best defense against those who might want to use the book to advance racist or anti-Semitic agendas.
Raim noted that "if someone really wants to get a copy of the book, then he can do so anyway, for example over the Internet."
Though widely available in the English-speaking world, the book has never been reprinted in Germany since World War II. While possession is not illegal, resale of old copies is tightly regulated, essentially limited to research purposes.
But German copyright law dictates that any author's work enters the public domain 70 years after his or her death. In Hitler's case, that is just over five years away: the Nazi dictator killed himself in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.
After World War II, the Allies agreed to hand the rights to "Mein Kampf" over to the Bavarian state government.
The Munich historians tried to initiate a similar project two years ago, but the Bavarian Finance Ministry was categorically opposed.
While its position may be softening somewhat, it still isn't keen and says it hopes publication of "Mein Kampf" can be prevented beyond 2015 under laws against incitement to hatred. It argues that holding back the book is matter of respect for the victims of the Holocaust.
The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, opposes publishing the book — but her organization's general secretary takes the opposite view.
"I'd rather see the book with commentary than printed in a normal version," Stephan Kramer told The Associated Press.
"I understand the survivors, but the publication is going to come anyway," Kramer said. "So we should use this opportunity."
"It also represents a chance to demystify 'Mein Kampf,' " he added. The vast majority of Germans are sufficiently educated and responsible to read it and draw their own conclusions, he said. "The longer it remains forbidden, the more attractive it becomes."
Raim and Kramer were both skeptical that a court would forbid the book's publication after 2015, as that might constitute a breach of freedom of expression.
A similar case involving the reprint of some Nazi-era newspapers in Germany by London-based publisher Albertas Limited went through several layers of jurisdiction before a court last year essentially ruled against efforts by the Finance Ministry — which held the rights to these documents as well — to keep the infamous documents off the shelves.
Historian Raim also points out that diaries by prominent Nazis like Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler are already available in Germany.
Hitler wrote the 700-page book — its English translation is "My Struggle" — after he was jailed in the aftermath of the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.
After the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s, the book became a best seller. Copies of it were given free to every German soldier and newlywed couple.
The book is widely available around the world in translations including English, Arabic, Russian and Japanese; Bavaria has sought to block it from publication and sale in some countries.
Bavaria successfully defended its copyright in recent court proceedings in Poland, the Finance Ministry said. Another trial in the Czech Republic is about to start, it said.
Last year a Spanish translation — "Mi Lucha" — appeared in Apple's online store as an audio book. Apple removed it immediately after learning about the Bavarian copyright, the ministry said in a statement.
In other countries, however, the Finance Ministry couldn't hinder the book's publication due to different copyright legislation. A special case involves the U.S. and Britain, where the copyright had already been sold during Hitler's lifetime.