A Jewish Family's ‘Mein Kampf’ Story

Heirloom Copy of Hitler’s Manifesto Wasn't What It Seemed

Not Black and White: A Jewish family kept a copy of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ as a tribute to an uncle who fought the Nazis. But when writer Hinda Mandell started probing deeper, she found his story about the book didn’t quite add up.
matthew white
Not Black and White: A Jewish family kept a copy of Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ as a tribute to an uncle who fought the Nazis. But when writer Hinda Mandell started probing deeper, she found his story about the book didn’t quite add up.

By Hinda Mandell

Published September 04, 2012, issue of September 07, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

I received two research grants from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I am an assistant professor, to hire genealogists to track down information about the original owners, and later to travel to Germany.

Eddie Cohen
Eddie Cohen

Eventually, I would learn that the book belonged to Walter and Klara Jess. The couple was married in Lübeck on April 29, 1938. Five years before their nuptials — nearly to the day — Walter became a member of the Nazi Party. She was a nurse; he was a land registry secretary. On their wedding day they received a copy of “Mein Kampf” from the Lübeck mayor. It was a common gift for such an occasion. Indeed, weddings helped put 10 million copies of Hitler’s political manifesto into circulation by 1945.

The Jesses could never have fathomed on that day that their Führer’s “Mein Kampf ” would end up in a Jewish home, 4,000 miles away.

The genealogists learned from city registries that the couple moved south to Hillesheim from Lübeck in 1938, and then to nearby Mainz in 1956.

They had three children. There was one entry for “Jess” in Mainz, listed in the local phonebook. First name: “Axel.”

One of the genealogists, Ursula Krause of the Berlin-based organization Rootseekers, emailed me his address. Perhaps he was related to Walter and Klara Jess and could share information about the couple?

Over Skype, Krause urged me to be withholding in my letter to Axel Jess. My approach should be gentle, she said. I should make no mention of the “Mein Kampf,” since it might cause him to shut down.

“All I’m saying is you have to be careful,” Krause said. “And be kind.”

So I sat down to write. I mentioned my great-uncle in the letter, saying that he brought home a book from the war. I didn’t mention what type of book it was. Nor how he got it. “You don’t know me, but I may have a connection to you,” I wrote. “My family has a book that may have originally belonged to your family.”

Eight days later, he emailed me. Walter and Klara Jess were indeed his parents.

It was a disorienting experience to come in contact with a living link to a book that has occupied so much of my mental space in recent years. It brought “Mein Kampf” out of the realm of history and into the here and now — although a here and now that is still shaped by the war.

Throughout the two dozen emails I exchanged with Axel Jess and his sister, Heike Stucke, I felt like a voyeur, peering into their family history through the sole lens of “Mein Kampf.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.