“Know it in order to reject it” was the justification given by conservative tabloid Il Giornale, which is owned by Paolo Berlusconi, brother of former premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi quickly denounced the initiative on Twitter, writing: “I find it sordid that an Italian daily is giving away Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I embrace the Jewish community with affection. #neveragain”
It was also denounced by Italy’s 30,000-strong Jewish community, which is one of the oldest in Europe.
“It is a vile act, light years away from any in-depth learning or study about the Holocaust,” said Renzo Gattegna, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, describing the initiative as “indecent”.
Explaining the move, Il Giornale said it was an attempt to educate.
“Reading Mein Kampf is a real antidote to the toxicity of national-socialism,” said the paper which published a 1937 version of the manifesto containing annotations by the historian Francesco Perfetti.
It said the text was being freely distributed alongside the first of a series of eight history books on the Nazi Third Reich which would be sold with the paper.
Partly autobiographical, Mein Kampf — which means ‘My Struggle’ — outlines Hitler’s ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. Written in 1924, it details his anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust in which about six million Jews were murdered at the hands of Nazi Germany.
For 70 years, the German state of Bavaria which was handed copyright of the book in 1945, refused to allow it to be republished out of respect for the victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.
But Mein Kampf fell into the public domain on January 1 this year, when a special edition was published for the first time since World War II which included critical annotations by historians.
Known for its rightwing positions, notably over the question of immigration, Il Giornale has a circulation of around 200,000. Neither the paper nor its owners are suspected of harbouring anti-Semitic views.
Anything touching on national-socialism is particularly sensitive in Italy due to the alliance between the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and Hitler.