Earlier in August, British expatriate author Michael Breen was wandering around a branch of Kyobo Book Centre, one of the capital’s largest bookstores, in downtown Seoul. Amid the hundreds of rows of books, something odd caught his eye: On a shelf of recommended reads, next to Deborah Lipstadt’s Denial (an account of a legal battle against a Holocaust denier), was, ironically, a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
“What surprised me was the starred slogan on the cover that said ‘No. 1 Bestseller,’” Breen recalled.
When he turned it over to find out more, the blurb proved even odder.
“It was written in bad English and was obviously the work of someone who thought Hitler should be rehabilitated and was misunderstood,” said Breen.
Photos of the book and its bizarre blurb made their way online, prompting various degrees of disbelief.
“Kyobo Book Centre??? Wie Verrückt! [How crazy!]” commented one Facebook user.
“A messiah or hero of twentieth century who was however, largely unpopular of his nazist and fascist viewpoints in the western imperialist world, still was loved and respected around other parts of the world” [sic], the blurb begins, eventually concluding, “Adolf Hitler…was a force of wisdom, positive vision and counteractive shield to the subjugated people of slave countries.”
Though the former dictator’s book has now been removed from display, it remains in stock, tucked away on a less conspicuous shelf. Priced at 27,760 won (around 25 U.S dollars), it’s an odd and disturbing edition.
As Breen points out, the English is sloppy — the publisher even manages to misspell its own name as “BLANK SPOTS PUBLISHIN” — and looks to have been written by a non-native speaker. The printing and binding are unpretentious, to put it mildly, looking like the work of a lone wolf with elementary photocopying skills.
A search for the publisher proved fruitless. Its website is down and Google only coughs up a link to a Pinterest account in which Blank Spots Publishing is described as “a powerful publishing business build on equalizing formulation or mechanics of the old and the new. We cover a large portfolio authors.” [Again, sic].
How this hagiographic edition of Mein Kampf ended up on the shelves of Kyobo, one of the country’s biggest and best-known bookstores, is a mystery.
“We’ve had these ones in stock for a long time,” said Kwon Mi-jeong, a Kyobo employee in the bookstore’s foreign language section. When asked about the unusual blurb praising Hitler, she pointed out that the book itself was not banned and that whatever went on the blurb was up to the publisher.
Kim Hyun-jung of Kyobo’s Brand Management Team took a similar line, pointing out that numerous Korean and foreign-language editions of Mein Kampf were available through the company’s website and that publishers were free to write any blurb.
It would seem either that nobody at Kyobo read the blurb before buying the books, or that they were unaware of the potential offense that such praise for Hitler could cause some readers.
South Korea’s World War II experience was shaped almost entirely by Japan, its neighbor and erstwhile colonial occupier, and the war in the Asia-Pacific region. Though Hitler is known to be a notorious figure, few South Koreans were directly affected by the Holocaust and it does not carry such a strong cultural taboo. One now-defunct bar in Sinchon in the early 2000s, called The Third Reich, had SS memorabilia framed on its walls, a cocktail called the “Adolf Hitler” on its menu and a portrait of the Führer himself in a gold cabinet at the end of the room.
“Imagine if Kyobo had displayed a book with a blurb criticizing the comfort women,” said Breen, referring to women from Korea and other countries, forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military in World War II. “They’d have had a riot in there.”
Cover image: Students burn books in central Berlin, 1933. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/German Federal Archive)