Alan Cranston, who later became a U.S. Senator from California, played an important role in alerting Americans to the danger of Adolf Hitler. 

During the early and mid-1930s, a number of prominent American universities sought to build friendly relations with Nazi Germany, especially with Nazi-controlled German universities. Among other things, U.S. universities took part in student exchanges with German academic institutions. Stanford University was one of those which participated. Although the American schools were seeking to build friendly relations with the Germans by encouraging their students to spend a semester or year in Germany, on occasion the effort backfired--as in the case of Alan Cranston.

Cranston, a student at Stanford, visited Germany in 1934. He was not taken in by German propaganda but rather was appalled by German totalitarianism and anti-Semitism. After graduating from Stanford in 1936, Cranston returned to Europe and spent time in Germany, as well as fascist Italy, as a correspondent for the International News Service. During this time, he became well acquainted with Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, which he read in the original German.

Shortly after returning to the United States in 1939, Cranston discovered that the English-language version of Mein Kampf which was circulating in the U.S. had been sanitized so that American readers would not be aware of the extent of Hitler's plans for war and destruction of the Jews. "It was purged of its most vitriolic ravings," he told Prof. Deborah Lipstadt in a 1985 interview.

Cranston and a friend, Hearst newspaper editor Amster Spiro, decided to publish their own version of the book, which would present the entire, unedited text, together with Cranston's critical commentary. "I dictated it in about eight days to a battery of secretaries in a loft in Manhattan," he later recalled. One of the secretaries, who was Jewish, misunderstood the nature of the project and reported to the Anti-Defamation League that Cranston appeared to be preparing Nazi propaganda. ADL staff researcher Benjamin Epstein investigated, realized what Cranston was doing, and ended up assisting him with the research. 

The final product was a 32 page tabloid totaling about 70,000 words (down from the original 270,000).  Cranston's remarks refuting Hitler were directly interspersed throughout the text. He called it a "Reader's Digest-like version" of Mein Kampf.  They priced it at ten cents, and sold 500,000 copies in ten days, according to Cranston. While Houghton Mifflin was paying Hitler royalties from sales of the sanitized edition, the Cranston version carried a blurb which read "Not 1 cent of royalty to Hitler," and pledged to send the profits to refugees fleeing the Nazis.

"Fritz Kuhn's American Nazis threw stink bombs at newsstands selling it in Yorkville and St. Louis," writes Cranston biographer Eleanor Fowle.

Fowle also reports that during this time, Cranston frequently wrote sympathetic human interest stories for the Seven Arts Syndicate based on interviews with the small number of Jewish refugees who succeeded in reaching the United States. In one instance, Cranston personally persuaded a Manhattan attorney to intervene on behalf of several refugees whose visas were invalid and were about to be shipped back to Europe.

At the same time, Cranston began work on a project targeting Mussolini.  He had obtained a copy of a racy novel, The Cardinal's Mistress, that Mussolini had authored as a young man; Cranston hoped that a 10-cent tabloid English-language edition of the book would undermine Mussolini's image in the United States, and among American Catholics in particular.

But Cranston's literary career came to a sudden end when Hitler decided to sue Cranston for copyright infringement.  It was the only instance in which the Nazi dictator filed a lawsuit against an American citizen. Cranston's lawyers invoked various technical arguments.  One argued that Mein Kampf was in the public domain --and therefore not subject to copyright regulations-- because Hitler was stateless when he wrote it.  (He had lost his Austrian citizenship in 1918 because he served in the German army in World War I, and did not receive Germany citizenship until 1932.)  Another was that since Hitler had copyrighted Mein Kampf in Austria, and since "he had destroyed Austria with his army, he destroyed his copyright at the same time."

Cranston lost the suit, and was compelled both to cease printing the book and destroy all unsold copies. Still, "we did wake up a lot of Americans to the Nazi threat," Cranston recalled.  Afraid of additional lawsuits, Cranston dropped his Mussolini project and decided to abandon journalism for politics.

More details about the Mein Kampf controversy may be found in Cranston's papers, which are located at the University of California at Berkeley.