Hitler’s Mein Kampf a surprise entry in Italian schoolkids’ top books list

A survey launched by Italy's Ministry for Education to promote reading and discover which books are most beloved by schoolchildren has proved the enduring popularity of classic tales. But in ten schools, an unwelcome entry made the top ten.

Hitler's Mein Kampf a surprise entry in Italian schoolkids' top books list
A copy of Hitler's manifesto. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP

Several secondary schools included Mein Kampf, the manifesto of Nazi leader Adolf Hiter, in their top ten lists.

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.

Alessandro Fusacchia, from the Italian Ministry for Education, referred to the choice as a “particularly nasty case”, adding that the book was ineligible for the vote in any case as secondary school pupils had been asked to select books by Italian authors published after 2000.

He said: “We are looking into it, but we are convinced that it was not a bad interpretation of the request, but rather a free choice.” 

The choice wasn't confined to one region, with classes in Palermo, Catanzaro (Calabria), Potenza (Basilicata), Tivoli and Gaeta in Lazio, Trieste, Udine (Fruili-Venezia Giulia), and Piacenza (Emilia Romagna) all selecting Hitler's book as one of their favourite reads. 

Fusacchia noted that teachers, rather than students, had been responsible for submitting the final responses, which were intended to be chosen following a class discussion about reading. 

Overall, however, he said the high level of participation and the variety of books selected was a “great celebration of books and reading”.

The top three books selected by secondary school students were: Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue (White As Milk, Red as Blood) by Alessandro D'Avenia, Io Non Ho Paura (I'm Not Scared) by Niccolò Ammaniti, and Gomorra by Roberto Saviano.

The top-rated female author was Elena Ferrante, whose first 'Neapolitan novel', L'amica geniale (My Brilliant Friend) was voted the 13th favourite.

Two entries in the top ten showed the students' interest in social issues: Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli (There are crocodiles in the sea) by Fabio Geda, a novel about an Afghan refugee's journey to Italy; and Mio fratello insegue i dinosauri (My brother chases dinosaurs) Giacomo Mazzariol, a story about a young boy with Down's Syndrome.

Meanwhile, the choices of Italian primary school children, who were asked to select their favourite books without any limitation on the country or date of publication, revealed the enduring popularity of classic tales. British, American, French and Italian authors all made the top ten. 

Their top three choices were: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (which came top in almost every region, receiving more than twice as many votes as the second place pick), The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

All in all, votes were cast for over 10,000 different titles. A total of 138,000 schools and 3.5 million students took part in the survey between June 1st and December 1st. 

A 2015 study had shown that 60 percent of Italians over the age of six never read for pleasure, a figure which dropped to 30 percent in the impoverished south. 

Participation in the schools' vote was particularly high in the southern regions, and each school will now receive €150 to go towards buying the requested books, in physical or ebook form, amounting to a total of €1.3 million. 

Mein Kampf controversy

In June this year, a rightwing Italian newspaper, owned by Silvio Berlusconi's brother, was widely condemned for giving away free copies of Mein Kampf.

“Know it in order to reject it” was the justification given by conservative tabloid Il Giornale, which said: “Reading Mein Kampf is a real antidote to the toxicity of national-socialism.”

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.

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’s their loss’: Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

The UK is missing out by barring highly skilled Italian graduates from accessing a new work visa, Italy's universities minister said on Wednesday.

'It's their loss': Italian universities left off UK special study visa list

Universities and Research Minister Cristina Messa said she was disappointed by the UK’s decision not to allow any graduates of Italian universities access to its ‘High Potential Individual’ work permit.

“They’re losing a big slice of good graduates, who would provide as many high skills…it’s their loss,” Messa said in an interview with news agency Ansa, adding that Italy would petition the UK government to alter its list to include Italian institutions.

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“It’s a system that Britain obviously as a sovereign state can choose to implement, but we as a government can ask (them) to revise the university rankings,” she said.

The High Potential Individual visa, which launches on May 30th, is designed to bring highly skilled workers from the world’s top universities to the UK in order to compensate for its Brexit-induced labour shortage.

Successful applicants do not require a job offer to be allowed into the country but can apply for one after arriving, meaning potential employers won’t have to pay sponsorship fees.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome.

Students sit on the steps of Roma Tre University in Rome. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP.

The visa is valid for two years for those with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three years for PhD holders, with the possibility of moving into “other long-term employment routes” that will allow the individual to remain in the country long-term.

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Italy isn’t the only European country to have been snubbed by the list, which features a total of 37 global universities for the 2021 graduation year (the scheme is open to students who have graduated in the past five years, with a different list for each graduation year since 2016).

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, EPFL Switzerland, Paris Sciences et Lettres, the University of Munich, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute are the sole European inclusions in the document, which mainly privileges US universities.

Produced by the UK’s Education Ministry, the list is reportedly based on three global rankings: Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

Messa said she will request that the UK consider using ‘more up-to-date indicators’, without specifying which alternative system she had in mind.