This past Monday, July 7, The New York Times ran an op-ed by my close friend Peter Ross Range, entitled, “Should Germans Read ‘Mein Kampf’?”
Since the end of World War II, Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto of hatred and power lust has been officially banned in Germany, as are many documents and iconography related to the Third Reich. All publication has been underground or on the Internet. But now, with the expiration of the copyright and a more historically studied perspective by the German government, a new version of the Nazi screed is being produced by the highly respected Institute for Contemporary History, which will publish a critical edition of the book with annotations by scholarly experts to set the work in proper context.
Peter Range suggests that this is a good idea: “But while the prospect of the Fuhrer’s words circulating freely on the German market may shock some, it shouldn’t. The inoculation of a younger generation against the Nazi bacillus is better served by open confrontation with Hitler’s words than by keeping his reviled tract in the shadows of illegality.”
Not everyone agrees.
Letters to the editor flowing in to the Times prove this is a highly controversial subject. Scholars and prominent Jewish leaders weighed in on both sides. But I think a letter to the editor written almost 50 years ago offers the best answer. It was written by my friend and mentor Rod Serling, who dealt with the Holocaust in several of his television plays and later in memorable episodes of The Twilight Zone.
In 1966, author and journalist Alex Haley, who would go on to fame and prominence for Roots and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, conducted a Playboy interview of American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell in his Arlington, Virginia office. Rockwell had not known in advance that Haley was African American, and kept a loaded revolver by his side throughout the encounter. The interview ran in the April issue and the reaction was huge. A general consensus was that Playboy should not have dignified or legitimatized Rockwell and his fringe hate group with this national exposure.
Rod Serling disagreed. And I offer his letter in full as an articulate explanation of why comprehending the forces of evil is a much more effective strategy than ignoring them. I strongly believe that were he still with us, Rod would have written a similar letter in support of Peter Range, who has conducted a number of memorable Playboy interviews himself.
April 15, 1966
Editor, Playboy Magazine
I anticipate that you people shall probably be roundly roasted for the recent Rockwell interview. There is a breed of layman social scientist who will forever cling to a concept of “defeating by ignoring”. Hence, when out of the muck of their own neurosis rises these self-proclaimed fuehrers, there is this well-meaning body who tell us that if we turn both eyes and cheek the nutrias will disappear simply by lack of exposure.
My guess is that in this case exposure is tantamount to education and education, here, is a most salutary instruction into the mentalities, the motives and the modus operandi of an animal pack who are discounted by the one aged maxim that “it can’t happen here.” So might have said the Goethes and Einsteins of a pre-war Germany who thought then, as we do now, that civilization by itself protects against a public acceptance of the uncivilized. Eleven years of national genocide and ten million lives later, we have learned to realize that even the most sophisticated society can still fall prey to an invasion of monsters. It is not public exposure that helps these perverters of human dignity. Rather, it is apathy. Laughter and derision might momentarily embarrass them but in the long run prove no deterrents whatsoever. What is desperately needed to combat any “ism” is precisely what PLAYBOY has done — an interview in depth that shows us the facets of the enemy. Yes, gentlemen, you may be knocked for supposedly lending some kind of credence to a brand of lunacy. But my guess is you should be given a commendation for a public service of infinite value.
Pacific Palisades, California
One final note: George Lincoln Rockwell and Rod Serling died at almost the same age – the former at 49, due to assassination by a dismissed American Nazi Party member the year after the Playboy interview, the latter at 50, due to a heart attack in 1975. Both men’s philosophies and moral views remain alive. And I firmly believe that the greatest weapons against the George Lincoln Rockwells of the world are the Rod Serlings. We need them more than ever.