Adolf Hitler's manifesto Mein Kampf a surprise hit in Germany

Copies of Mein Kampf, Hitler's manifesto (Getty)
Copies of Mein Kampf, Hitler's manifesto (Getty)

Seven decades after it was banned, Adolf Hitler's manifesto Mein Kampf has been flying off the shelves in Germany.

The Institute of Contemporary History (ICH), based in Munich, says its Hitler, Mein Kampf, A Critical Edition sold 85,000 copies last year.

But it hasn't been neo-Nazis snapping up copies of the controversial work.

"By and large it appears to be customers who are generally interested in politics and history, as well as people who are active in political education, such as teachers," the institute said in a statement on Tuesday.

The clue is in the title. Hitler, Mein Kampf, A Critical Edition comes with 3500 annotations, providing historical context and criticism of the future Nazi dictator's words.

"We are very happy that the ambitious bridge between fundamental academic work and historical-political explanation appears to have succeeded," said the institute.

Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, was written in the mid-1920s while Hitler was in jail. When the fascist leader died at the end of World War II, the rights fell to the state of Bavaria, which refused to allow any more copies to be printed in Germany.

The copyright expired on January 1, 2016, and the publication of a new version split opinion in a country where Nazi symbols like the swastika and the 'Heil Hitler' salute are largely banned.

"The discussions about Hitler's worldview and dealing with his propaganda presented an opportunity, at a time when authoritarian political beliefs and far-right slogans are again gaining in popularity, to re-examine the ominous roots and results of such totalitarian ideologies," says Andreas Wirsching, the institute's director.

Another version of Mein Kampf, printed by a right-wing publisher without annotations, also went on sale last year. Officials last year said they would investigate whether the publisher could face charges, the New York Times reports, but a second edition of the book is still being offered for sale on its website.

The ICH's version spent 35 weeks on best-seller lists in Germany.