Descendents of Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s propaganda minister, are to be paid royalties for extracts from his diaries published in a new biography, following a bitter legal battle.
The publishers of the biography, Random House Germany, had resisted demands to pay Goebbels’ estate, arguing that copyright laws should be overturned on moral grounds.
But the Munich district court ruled against the publisher on Thursday, although it said the rights to Goebbels’ literary estate expire at the end of 2015 and similar cases are not expected “to any significant extent in the future”.
Cordula Schacht – a lawyer whose father, Hjalmar Schacht, was Hitler’s minister of economics – represented the Goebbels estate in taking legal action againstRandom House Germany and its imprint Siedler.
The family of Goebbels, who was one of the architects of the Final Solution, argued that they should be paid for extracts from his diaries which are published in the biography by Peter Longerich, a professor of modern German history atRoyal Holloway, University of London.
Rainer Dresen, the general counsel of Random House Germany, said Schacht had rejected his offer – made privately and in court – for royalties to be paid if they were donated to a Holocaust charity. Schacht insisted that money should go to Goebbels’ family, thought to include descendants of his siblings.
Dresen spoke on Thursday of his shock at the court’s verdict, describing it as a sad day for Germany.
He noted the irony of the court’s setting in Munich, where Hitler and the Nazis rose to prominence. Dresen said: “You have a strange feeling. You’re crossing those buildings, buildings where … Hitler was … on the balcony. That of course is not a legal thing. It’s a moral issue.”
Dresen said the insensitivity of the verdict was an extension of the defence used by Nazi war criminals – that they were just following orders. He added: “They have no feeling for the meaning above the legal questions … I was shocked by the [court’s] lack of historical interest… They took the easy road.”
This way, he observed, they “can go on ignoring the fundamental question: should money go to the estate of a war criminal?”
The work, which makes extensive use of the diaries, was published in Germany in 2010. The English edition was published by Penguin Random House UK and its imprint Bodley Head in May.
Goebbels remained with Hitler in their besieged bunker in Berlin. He and his wife took their own lives after poisoning their six children. His diaries span 1924 to 1945. Copies of them are in public libraries.
Last September, the Munich district court ordered Random House Germany to disclose its earnings, but the publisher appealed on legal, copyright and moral grounds. The case was heard in April.
Dresen said the court was not interested in the moral question even “for one second”. He described the verdict as elegant but without morality.
The publisher now intends to appeal through the German supreme court.