Spanish court says "nein" to neo-Nazi bookseller

Catalan storeowner may have violated intellectual property law in publishing 'Mein Kampf'

Adolf Hitler has landed a Spanish neo-Nazi in legal hot waters. Pedro Varela Geiss, the Barcelona librarian who was jailed for disseminating genocidal ideas, will sit on the dock again soon. But this time it will not be for selling books that denigrate blacks and homosexuals, or for saying that the Holocaust was a "myth" made up of "six million soap bars."

This time, Varela - who feels he is the victim of a persecution, to the extent of comparing himself with Jesus Christ and Joan of Arc - is indicted on more prosaic charges: violating intellectual property laws by publishing and distributing Mein Kampf, the bible of National Socialism.

Varela published his own edition of Hitler's work and sold an unknown number of copies throughout the years at his bookstore, an establishment called Europa that was attacked and virtually destroyed last year by around 20 "anti-fascist" youths. The bookstore remains open to the public, but the owner's activities became known to the Free State of Bavaria, the German land that owns the rights to Mein Kampf until 2015, when 70 years will have elapsed since the Führer committed suicide inside a Berlin bunker.

"Hitler was a resident of Munich until his death, and that is why Bavaria came to own the rights to his work," explains Dr Edith Raim of the Munich-based Institute of Contemporary History.

The librarian's attorney, Fernando Oriente, adds: "The occupation forces seized Hitler's assets" and turned them over to the newly created Federal Republic of Germany. "Hitler's legal heirs claimed those copyrights, but their claim was not even admitted to proceedings," says Oriente.

In February 2009, the German Consulate in Barcelona - incidentally, located just 350 meters from the Europa bookstore - decided to end Varela's Mein Kampf-related business and sued him for a crime against intellectual property rights. The judged dismissed the case at first, but the Barcelona attorney for hate crimes, Miguel Ángel Aguilar, appealed the decision and the provincial court sustained his appeal.

The investigation is nearly complete, and Aguilar now wants to know how much money Varela made on the sale of Mein Kampf, one of the works that was seized by regional Catalan police in 2006, when they raided the bookstore and arrested Varela. Although Bavarian authorities are not demanding any specific amount of money in damages - they are not officially represented in the suit despite having reported the situation- the librarian could end up having to pay a considerable amount of money if he is found guilty, according to legal sources.

"It is a significant amount, yes," admitted Varela's defense.

The Penal Code establishes prison sentences of up to two years for intellectual property crimes, extendable to four if the profits made from it were especially high. But Oriente questions Bavarian authorities' legitimacy in claiming copyrights.

"There are contradictory rulings in Italy and Sweden; this is a complex issue," he says, lamenting that Varela is being targeted "but not other general bookstores that sell the book without any problems. I suppose it's because of who he is."

In Germany, explains Raim, it is forbidden to publish Mein Kampf but not to own it.

Hitler's book is one of the titles that a judge ordered destroyed after Varela was sentenced to 15 months in jail. The librarian was unable to avoid prison because he had already been convicted in the past for a similar crime, and he is expected to be released next March.

Meanwhile, Varela feels like the victim of a persecution and his followers are trying to raise funds to help him because "every truth needs someone to proclaim it."

He insists that he is just a simple bookstore owner. "Who do I ask what books I may sell? Where is the inquisitor?" he lamented at the trial. Never mind the fact that he kept a bust of Hitler, made at the height of Nazism, concealed in the storage room.

Adolf Hitler marching through the Bavarian city of Nuremberg in 1927.
Adolf Hitler marching through the Bavarian city of Nuremberg in 1927.GETTY
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