"We got a fresh delivery in this morning, but it sold out in just a few hours. You won't have any luck elsewhere either ... Somehow everybody seems to want a copy. " The newspaper seller at Berlin's Friedrichstrasse station is bemused. After all, the publication selling like hot cakes hardly contains hot news. Its issue date is January 30, not 2009, but 1933. REICH CHANCELLOR HITLER! trumpets a banner headline.
In any other country, facsimile editions of old newspapers would be unlikely to cause much of a stir. In Germany, where "anti-constitutional" symbols such as the swastika and the straight-armed Nazi salute have been illegal since 1945, this is a new and controversial phenomenon. (See pictures of Adolf Hitler's Rise to Power.)
Called Zeitungszeugen Newspaper Witnesses the first issue of the series includes not only a reprint of Der Angriff whose editor and most strident columnist was propaganda chief Josef Goebbels but also the communist paper Der Kämpfer and the more moderate Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. The facsimiles are bound inside pages of commentary and analysis intended to give them context. British publisher and hobby historian Peter McGee has already launched similar projects in eight European countries, including Austria. Prominent historians, such as Hans Mommsen, a leading expert on the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany, and Wolfgang Benz, head of the Berlin Center for Research on Anti-semitism, are advisers to the project. "We want to give people the opportunity to form their own picture not only of the political events, but also of the era these events took place and the attitudes to life at that time, for example by reading the classifieds or the film guide," says historian Sandra Paweronschitz, the series editor. (See pictures of Europeans marking the defeat of Nazi Germany six decades on.)
Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, is unconvinced by that argument. "As a survivor of the Shoah, these texts are much more to me than just interesting historical sources. They are part of the horrible reality that I managed to escape. Millions of other Jewish people weren't so lucky," Knobloch said in a statement to TIME.
Her unease is widely shared. As the German economy spirals downwards, some commentators see parallels to the dying days of the Weimar Republic and the conditions that enabled Hitler's rise. The German daily Der Tagesspiegel recently reported a rise in the number of Neo-Nazis, citing intelligence sources. Polls suggest the far-right NPD party could maintain the foothold in Saxony's state parliament that they gained in 2004 and win seats in the state of Thuringia in elections this summer. In December, the police chief of the Bavarian city Passau survived a knife attack by a skinhead, thought to be a Neo-Nazi.
Against such a background, skeptics are questioning whether the Zeitungszeugen project can succeed in its stated aims. With copies flying off the newsstands, its commercial success looks a little easier to judge.