In April 1983, the West German news magazine Stern published excerpts from what purported to be the diaries of Adolf Hitler, known as the Hitler Diaries (German: Hitler-Tagebücher), which were subsequently revealed to be forgeries. The magazine had paid nearly 9 million German marks (US $3.8m) for the sixty small books, plus a "special volume" about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. In April 2013 Stern publisher Gruner + Jahr donated 58 volumes to the German Federal Archive in Coblenz. The House of the History of the Federal Republic in Bonn and the Police Museum in Hamburg received one volume each. The final volume had been auctioned off in Berlin to an anonymous buyer, who paid 6,500 euros for it in April 2004.
"Discovery" of the diaries
On 22 April 1983, Stern announced that it had discovered the diaries. Journalist Gerd Heidemann claimed to have received the diaries from East Germany, smuggled out by a "Dr. Fischer". The diaries were supposed to be part of a consignment of documents recovered from an aircraft crash in Börnersdorf near Dresden in April 1945.
Stern's parent company, Gruner + Jahr, collected the diaries in great secrecy over the course of more than 18 months. Three separate handwriting analyses were arranged, in Europe and the USA, of one page from one of the diaries; all the tests identified the writing as Hitler's. However, Gruner + Jahr delayed forensic analysis; and fear of leaks meant that no experts in World War II history were allowed more than cursory access to the diaries before publication. Two historians who did briefly see them, Hugh Trevor-Roper (Baron Dacre of Glanton since 1979) and Gerhard Weinberg, were retained by Times Newspapers and Newsweek, respectively, to authenticate the diaries before bidding for the serialisation rights.
Trevor-Roper, an independent director of Times Newspapers, flew to Switzerland to see the diaries. Stern showed him not only the diary volumes, but a large archive of additional Hitler material, said to have been salvaged from the Börnersdorf crash along with the diaries. Trevor-Roper was convinced of the diaries' authenticity, writing in the next day's The Times that:
I am now satisfied that the documents are authentic; that the history of their wanderings since 1945 is true; and that the standard accounts of Hitler's writing habits, of his personality and, even, perhaps, of some public events, may in consequence have to be revised.
Discovery of the forgery
Many doubted the diaries' genuineness. The previous German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told a group "I just can't believe it's true". Sceptics thought that no one person could have forged 60 volumes, and believed that the East German and Soviet governments had faked the diaries to divide West Germany from its allies, or to earn Western hard currency.
Doubts quickly emerged, and a press conference held to launch publication of the diaries on 25 April 1983 was a fiasco for Stern, as both Trevor-Roper and Weinberg qualified their previous endorsements, while writer David Irving held up photocopies of a fake Hitler diary that he said was from the same source as Stern's material.
Within two weeks, the West German Bundesarchiv revealed that the Hitler Diaries were "grotesquely superficial fakes" made on modern paper using modern ink and full of historical inaccuracies. The content had been largely copied from a book of Hitler's speeches, Max Domarus' Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations, with additional "personal" comments, and worse still, much of the "archive" that had impressed Trevor-Roper in Switzerland was also discovered to have been forged. Dr Julius Grant in London confirmed this forensic analysis. The autograph expert Kenneth W. Rendell concluded the diaries were not particularly good fakes, calling them "bad forgeries but a great hoax", and stated that "with the exception of imitating Hitler's habit of slanting his writing diagonally as he wrote across the page, the forger failed to observe or to imitate the most fundamental characteristics of his handwriting."
In the fallout, Stern editors Peter Koch and Felix Schmidt resigned from the magazine, while Frank Giles stood down as editor of The Sunday Times, William Broyles resigned from Newsweek, and the episode was much ridiculed in the British media (particularly by the Sunday Times' rival newspapers), with Trevor-Roper's reputation being seriously damaged.
On 25 April 2012, during the Leveson inquiry, Rupert Murdoch acknowledged his role in publishing the diaries. During a phone conversation with Sunday Times editor Frank Giles shortly before publication of the diaries, Trevor-Roper retracted his support of authenticity, but Murdoch made the decision to publish.
The diaries were actually written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger; both he and Heidemann went to trial in 1984, were convicted and each sentenced to 42 months in prison for forgery and embezzlement.
Out of the nine million marks, Kujau certainly received a portion, but it is likely that Heidemann pocketed a majority. A Hamburg court later found that Heidemann kept at least 4.4 million Deutsche marks. At the time the fraud was being investigated, authorities learned that Heidemann had purchased two Spanish villas, two luxury sports cars, expensive jewellery, rare World War II memorabilia for his collection, and extravagant vacations, amongst other things. All of the items, totalling well over 1.5 million marks, were allegedly paid for out of Heidemann's monthly salary of 5,400 marks.
After release from prison, Kujau used his new fame as a forger to open a studio and sell "original Kujau forgeries".
Accounts of the hoax
Between 11 June and 9 July 1991 Selling Hitler, a five-episode Euston Films/Thames Television drama-documentary series based on Harris's book, was broadcast on the British ITV channel. It was directed by Alastair Reid and starred Jonathan Pryce as Heidemann, Alexei Sayle as Kujau, Tom Baker as Gruner + Jahr Chairman Manfred Fischer, Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper, Roger Lloyd-Pack as David Irving, Richard Wilson as Henri Nannen and Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch. The series, which The Guardian described as "a rollicking comedy with black edges", was released on Region 1 DVD in July 2010.
In 1992 the story of the Hitler diaries was also adapted to the big screen. The satirical German movie Schtonk! garnered positive reviews by critics and won three German movie awards as well as an Academy Award nomination.
- Cottrell, Chris; Kulish, Nicholas (23 April 2013). "30 Years Later, Forged Hitler Diaries Enter German Archives". The New York Times.
- "Stern Presents Hitler’s Diaries (22 April 1983)". German History in Documents and Images. German Historical Institute. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
- Robert Harris, Selling Hitler, London 1986, p.24
- Vinocur, John (1983-04-26). "The Hitler diaries: Rewriting history?". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. New York Times News Service. p. 1. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
- McGrane, Sally (25 April 2013). "Diary of the Hitler Diary Hoax". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Rendell, Kenneth W. (1994). Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 112.
- "Murdoch at Leveson Inquiry". Westminster blog (Financial Times). April 25, 2012.
- Davidson, Amy (14 July 2011). "What Murdoch learned from the Hitler Diary fogeries". The New Yorker.
- Konrad Kujau's studio
- Robert Harris. Selling Hitler. The Extraordinary Story of the Con Job of the Century -- The Faking of the Hitler "Diaries". New York: Pantheon, 1986. ISBN 0394553365
- Selling Hitler at the Internet Movie Database
- "german films". Retrieved 2014-05-25.
- Selling Hitler at the Internet Movie Database
- Schtonk! at the Internet Movie Database
- MacArthur, Brian (25 April 2008). "Hitler diaries scandal: 'We'd printed the scoop of the century, then it turned to dust". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- The Hitler Diaries
- "1983: 'Hitler diaries' published". BBC News (London: BBC). 25 April 1983. Retrieved 10 September 2012.