Hitler Diaries

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The front cover of Stern magazine. The image is of three black notebooks; on the top book are the gold letters FH in gothic script. The Stern logo—an irregular six-pointed white star on a red background is in the top left of the cover, next to the word "stern". At the bottom are the words in German "Hitlers Tagebücher endeckt" ("Hitler's diaries discovered").
"Hitler's diaries discovered"—Stern's headline on 22 April 1983

The Hitler Diaries (German: Hitler-Tagebücher) were a series of sixty volumes of journals purportedly by Adolf Hitler, but forged by Konrad Kujau in 1981–83. The diaries were purchased by the West German news magazine Stern in 1983 for 9.3 million marks ($3.7 million), who sold serialisation rights to several news organisations, notably The Sunday Times. At the press conference to announce the news, several historians—including two who had previously authenticated the diaries—raised questions over the validity of the diaries. Rigorous forensic analysis had not been undertaken prior to the press conference, and subsequent examination quickly confirmed the diaries were fakes.

Kujau, born and raised in East Germany, had a history of petty crime and deception. In the mid-1970s he began selling Nazi memorabilia which he was smuggling from the east, but soon found he could raise the prices by forging additional authentication details which linked ordinary souvenirs to the Nazi leaders. He began forging paintings by Hitler and an increasing number of notes, poems and letters, until he produced his first diary in the mid- to late 1970s. The diaries were purchased by Gerd Heidemann, a West German journalist with Stern, who had an obsession with the Nazis. Stern started buying the diaries, although Heidemann stole a significant proportion of the money from his employers.

In early 1983 Stern came to agreements with several global news organisations to serialise the diaries. One of the companies involved was The Sunday Times, who asked their independent director, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, to authenticate the diaries; he did so, pronouncing them genuine. Upon reflection he changed his mind, which he announced at the Stern press conference to launch the diaries. Forensic examination quickly showed that the diaries were amateurish forgeries. Kujau and Heidemann both spent time in prison for their parts in the fraud, and several newspapers editors lost their jobs as a result of the debacle. The scandal has been adapted for the screen twice; once as Selling Hitler (1991) for the British ITV channel, and the following year as Schtonk! for German cinema.

Background[edit]

Konrad Kujau[edit]

A man in his fifties, balding and portly, is shown smiling to the left of the camera.
Konrad Kujau in 1992

Konrad Kujau was born in 1938 in Löbau, near Dresden, East Germany, to a shoemaker and his wife, both of whom had joined the Nazi Party in 1933. The boy grew up believing in the Nazi ideals and idolising Adolf Hitler; the defeat to the Allies in 1945, and Hitler's suicide did not temper his enthusiasm for the Nazi cause. He held a series of menial jobs until 1957, when a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the theft of a microphone from the Löbau Youth Club, and he fled to Stuttgart, West Germany; he soon drifted into temporary work and petty crime.[1][2][a] After running a dance bar with his girlfriend, Edith Lieblang, during the early 1960s, Kujau began to create a fictional background for himself, telling people his real name was Peter Fischer, changing his date of birth by two years, and altering the story of his time in East Germany.[4] By 1963 the bar began suffering financial difficulties, and Kujau started his career as a counterfeiter, forging 27 Deutsche Marks' worth of luncheon vouchers;[b] he was caught and sentenced to five days in prison. On his release he and his wife formed the Lieblang Cleaning Company, although it provided little income for them. In March 1968, at a routine check at Kujau's lodgings, the police established he was living under a false identity and he was sent to Stuttgart's Stammheim Prison.[6][7]

In 1970 Kujau visited his family in East Germany and discovered that many of the locals held Nazi memorabilia, contrary to the laws of the Communist government. He saw an opportunity to buy the materiel cheaply on the black market, and make a profit in the West, where the increasing demand among Stuttgart collectors was raising memorabilia prices up to ten times the amount he would pay. The trade was illegal in East Germany, and the export of what were deemed items of cultural heritage was banned.[8][c] Among the items smuggled out of East Germany were weapons, and Kujau would occasionally wear a pistol, sometimes firing it in a nearby field, or shooting empty bottles in his local bar.[11][d]

In 1974 Kujau rented a shop into which he placed his Nazi memorabilia; the outlet also became the venue for late-night drinking sessions with friends and fellow collectors, including Wolfgang Schulze, who lived in the US and became Kujau's agent there.[12] Kujau inflated the value of items in his shop by forging additional authentication details—for example a genuine First World War helmet, worth a few marks, became considerably more valuable after Kujau forged a note indicating that Hitler had worn it at Ypres in late October 1914. In addition to notes by Hitler, he produced documents in the handwriting of Martin Bormann, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. Although the handwriting was a passable imitation of the owners, the rest of the work was crude: Kujau used modern stationery, which he aged with tea, and created letterheads by using Letraset.[13][14] In many cases the spelling and grammar was inaccurate, particularly when he forged in English; a copy of the Munich Agreement between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain read, in part:

"We regard the areement signet last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another againe."[14]

In the mid- to late 1970s Kujau, an able amateur artist, turned to producing paintings which he claimed were by Hitler, who had also been an amateur artist in his younger days.[e] Having found a market for his forged works, Kujau painted subjects his buyers professed an interest in, such as cartoons, nudes and men in action—all subjects that Hitler never painted, or would want to paint. Often these paintings were accompanied by small notes purportedly from Hitler but forged by Kujau; the paintings were profitable for the forger. To explain his access to the memorabilia he invented several sources in East Germany, including a former Nazi general, the bribable director of a museum and his brother, a general in the East German army.[16]

Having found success in passing off his forged notes as those of Hitler, Kujau grew more ambitious and copied, by hand, the text from both volumes of Mein Kampf, even though the originals had been completed by typewriter. Kujau also produced an introduction to a third volume of the work. He sold these "manuscripts" to one of his regular clients, Fritz Stiefel, a collector of Nazi memorabilia.[17][f] Kujau also began forging a series of war poems by Hitler, which were so amateurish that Kujau later admitted that "a fourteen-year-old collector would have recognised it as a forgery".[18]

Gerd Heidemann[edit]

Gerd Heidemann was born in Hamburg in 1931. With the rise of Hitler his parents remained apolitical, but Heidemann, like many other young boys, joined the Hitler Youth. After the war he trained as an electrician, and pursued an interest in photography. He began working in a photo lab and became a freelance photographer for the DPA and Keystone news agencies, as well as some local Hamburg papers. He had his first work published in Stern in 1951 and four years later joined the paper as a full-time member of staff.[19][20] From 1961 he covered wars and hostilities across Africa and the Middle East;[g] he became obsessed with these conflicts and other stories on which he worked, such as the search for identity of the German writer B. Traven. Although he was an excellent researcher—his colleagues called him der Spürhund, the Bloodhound—he would not know when to stop investigating, which led to other writers having to finish off the stories from large quantities of notes.[22]

In January 1973 Heidemann was photographing the Carin II, a yacht that formerly belonged to Göring.[h] The boat was in a poor state of repair and expensive to maintain, but Heidemann took a mortgage on his Hamburg flat and purchased it.[23] Researching into the history of the yacht, Heidemann interviewed Göring's daughter, Edda, after which the couple began to have an affair. Through his relationship and his ownership of the boat he was introduced to a circle of former Nazis. He began to hold parties on the Carin II, with the former SS generals Karl Wolff and Wilhelm Mohnke as the guests of honour. Wolff and Mohnke were witnesses at Heidemann's wedding to his third wife in 1979; the couple went on honeymoon to South America accompanied by Wolff, where they met more ex-Nazis, including Walter Rauff and Klaus Barbie, who were both wanted in the West for war crimes.[24]

Heidemann experienced financial problems caused by the purchase of the yacht, and in 1976 he agreed terms with Gruner + Jahr, Stern‍ '​s parent company, to produce a book based on the conversations he was having with the former soldiers and SS men.[25] When the book went unwritten—the material provided by the former SS officer was not sufficiently interesting or verifiable for publication—Heidemann borrowed increasingly large sums from his employers to pay for the boat's upkeep. In June 1978 he advertised the boat for sale, asking 1.1 million marks; he received no offers.[26] Mohnke recommended that Heidemann speak to Jakob Tiefenthaeler, a Nazi memorabilia collector and a former member of the SS. Although Tiefenthaeler was not in a position to buy the yacht, he was happy to act as an agent, although no sale was forthcoming from his endeavours. Realising Heidemann's financial circumstances, Tiefenthaeler provided him with names of other collector in the Stuttgart area. The journalist made a trip to the south of Germany and met Stiefel, who purchased some of Göring's effects.[27]

Stern, The Sunday Times and Newsweek[edit]

A spectacled man in his seventies faces to the left of the viewer. His hands are in front of him, the fingers interlinked.
Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The Sunday Times, in 2007

Stern (German for "Star"), a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg, was formed by the journalist and businessman Henri Nannen in 1948 to offer scandal, gossip and human interest stories.[28] It was known for its investigative journalism and was politically left-of-centre.[29] In 1981 Nannen resigned from his position of editor of the magazine, and moved to take the role of "publisher". In his place Stern had three editors: Peter Koch, Rolf Gillhausen and Felix Schmidt, who were aided by others including the journal's Head of Contemporary History, Thomas Walde. Manfred Fischer was CEO of Gruner + Jahr until 1981 when he was promoted to the board of Bertelsmann, their parent company; he was replaced by Gerd Schulte-Hillen. Wilfried Sorge was one of the Gruner + Jahr managers responsible for international sales.[30][31]

The Sunday Times is a British national broadsheet newspaper, the Sunday sister paper of The Times. In 1968, under the ownership of Lord Thomson, The Sunday Times had been involved in a deal to purchase the Mussolini diaries for £60,000, against an agreed final purchase price of £250,000.[i] These turned out to be forgeries undertaken by an Italian mother and daughter, Amalia and Rosa Panvini.[33] The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper became an independent national director of The Times in 1974. Trevor-Roper—who was appointed Baron Dacre of Glanton in 1979—was a specialist in Nazi Germany, and had published on the topic several times in his career, including The Last Days of Hitler (1947),[j] Hitler's War Directives (1964) and Hitler's Place in History (1965).[34] In 1981 Rupert Murdoch, who owned several other papers in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, purchased Times Newspapers Ltd, which owned both The Times and its Sunday sister.[35] Murdoch appointed Frank Giles to be the editor of The Sunday Times.[36]

Newsweek, an American weekly news magazine, was founded in 1933. In 1982 the journalist William Broyles was appointed as the editor-in-chief, while the editor was Maynard Parker; that year the company had circulation figures of 3 million readers.[37][38]

Operation Seraglio[edit]

A black-and-white photograph of the head and shoulders of a man in his mid-forties, looking to the right of the viewer. He is wearing a Second World War German military uniform.
General Hans Baur, Hitler's personal pilot

On 20 April 1945—Hitler's 56th birthday—Soviet troops were on the verge of taking Berlin and the Allies had already taken several German cities. Hitler's private secretary, Martin Bormann, put into action Operation Seraglio, a plan to evacuate the key and favoured members of Hitler's entourage from the Berlin bunker where they were based, the Führerbunker, to the Alpine Redoubt, a replacement command centre near Berchtesgaden in Southern Germany. Ten aeroplanes flew out from Gatou airfield under the overall command of General Hans Baur, Hitler's personal pilot.[39][40]

The final flight out of the day was a Junkers Ju 352 transport plane, piloted by Major Friedrich Gundlfinger. It contained ten heavy chests which were escorted by Sergeant Wilhelm Arndt, Hitler's personal valet. The plane crashed into the Heidenholz forest, near what would become the border with Czechoslovakia.[41] Some of the more useful parts of the plane were taken away by locals before the police and SS cordoned off the crash.[42] When Baur informed Hitler of the crash, the German leader was upset at the loss of one of his favoured servants and said to Baur, "I entrusted him with extremely valuable documents which would show posterity the truth of my actions!"[43] Apart from this quoted sentence, there is no indication of what was in the boxes; Bormann disappeared from the Berlin bunker after Hitler's suicide on 30 April 1945 and was also assumed to have taken his own life.[44]

Production and sale of the diaries[edit]

Producing the diaries[edit]

Top line: the letters F and H in gothic script. Bottom line: the letters A and H in gothic script
The initials FH (top row) which Kujau mistakenly used on the diary covers, instead of AH (bottom row). Both sets of initials are in Engravers Old English font.

It is unclear when Kujau produced his first Hitler diary. Stiefel says Kujau gave him a diary on loan in 1975. Schulze puts the date in 1976, while Kujau says he began in 1978, after a month's practice writing in the old German gothic script Hitler had used. Kujau used one of a pile of notebooks he had bought cheaply in East Berlin, and attempted to put the letters "AH" in gold on the front—purchasing plastic, Hong Kong-made letters from a department store, he inadvertently used "FH" rather than "AH". He took the black ribbon from a genuine SS document, and attached it to the cover using a German army wax seal. For the ink he bought two bottles of Pelikan ink—one black, one blue—and mixed them with water so it would flow more easily from the cheap modern pen he used. Finally he sprinkled tea over the pages and bashed the diaries against his desk to give them an aged look. Kujau showed the first volume to Stiefel, who was impressed by the work; Stiefel wanted to buy it, but when the forger refused, the pair agreed that the collector could have it on loan.[45][46]

In June 1979 Stiefel asked an expert in Hitler memorabilia, August Priesack, to verify the authenticity of the diary, which he subsequently did. Priesack also showed the diary to Eberhard Jäckel of the University of Stuttgart, who also thought the diary to be genuine, and wanted to edit it for publication. News of the existence of the diary soon began to filter through to the collectors of Hitler memorabilia.[45] At the end of 1979 Tiefenthaeler contacted Heidemann to say that Stiefel had shown him round his collection, in which was a Hitler diary—the only one Kujau had forged to that point.[27] According to Charles Hamilton, a handwriting expert and author of books on forgery, "the discovery inflamed Heidemann almost to madness", and he aggressively pressed for what would be a journalistic scoop.[47]

Heidemann travelled to Stuttgart in January 1980, where Stiefel showed him the diary, telling him it was from a plane crash in East Germany, although he refused to tell the journalist the name of his source. The collector acted as a go-between and spoke to Kujau to see if he would meet Heidemann, but the forger refused to do so for nearly a year.[48] Heidemann returned to the Stern offices and spoke to his editor, but both Koch and Nannen refused to discuss the potential story with him, telling him to work on other features. The only person who was interested was Walde, who worked with Heidemann to find the source of the diaries. Their searches for Kujau proved fruitless, so they decided to look into the crash. Heidemann, who had read Baur's autobiography, knew of Gundlfinger's flight, and made the connection between Operation Seraglio and the diary; in November 1980 the two journalists travelled to Dresden and located the graves of the flight's crew.[49] There had been survivors of the crash, the last of whom had died in April 1980.[50]

In January 1981 Tiefenthaeler gave Kujau's telephone number to Heidemann, telling the journalist to ask for "Mr Fischer", one of Kujau's aliases. During the subsequent phone call Kujau told Heidemann that there were 27 volumes of Hitler's diaries, the original manuscript of the unpublished third volume of Mein Kampf, an opera by the young Hitler called Wieland der Schmied (Wieland the Blacksmith), numerous letters and unpublished papers, and several of Hitler's paintings—most of which was still in East Germany. Heidemann offered two million marks for the entire collection and guaranteed secrecy until everything had been brought over the border. Although the couple did not agree a deal, they agreed "the foundations of a deal", according to the journalist Robert Harris; Kujau's condition was that he would only deal directly with Heidemann, something that suited the journalist as way of keeping other members of Stern away from the story.[51][52]

Heidemann and Walde produced a prospectus for internal discussion, outlining what was available for purchase and the costs. The document finished with a veiled threat: "If our company thinks that the risk is too great, I suggest that I should seek out a publishing company in the United States which could put up the money and ensure that we get the German publication rights." The pair did not show it to anyone at Stern, but instead presented it to Gruner + Jahr's deputy managing director, Dr Jan Hensmann, and Manfred Fischer; they also requested a 200,000 mark deposit from the publisher to secure the rights with Kujau. After a meeting that lasted a little over two hours, and with no recourse to an expert or historian, the figures were agreed.[53][54] As soon as the meeting ended, at about 7 pm, Heidemann travelled to Hamburg airport with Peter Kuehsel, Gruner + Jahr's accountant; Kuehsel visited the branch of Deutsche Bank at the airport and withdrew the deposit money before the journalist flew to Stuttgart to meet Kujau.[55]

Acquisition[edit]

At that first meeting on 28 January 1981, which lasted over seven hours, Heidemann offered Kujau a deposit of only 100,000 marks to agree the deal, which Kujau did not. At a second meeting the following day, the reporter revealed the additional lure he had brought with him: Göring's uniform. Kujau tentatively agreed to provide the diaries and told Heidemann that he would call him as soon as he could arrange to receive them from East Germany. As a sign of good faith Heidemann lent Göring's uniform to the forger, to show alongside his collection of other uniforms from the top Nazis; for his part, Kujau gave the journalist a painting by Hitler. Both the painting and uniform were fakes.[56][57]

A man in his eighties with thin grey hair, facing to the right of the viewer; he wears a dark suit and tie.
Eberhard Jäckel, the historian who initially thought that Hitler's poems and the diaries were genuine, before he changed his mind.

A week later Kujau met Jäckel and Alex Kuhn in connection with the poems he had forged and sold to Stiefel. These had been published by Jäckel and Kuhn in 1980, but one historian pointed out that one of the poems could not have been produced by Hitler as it had been written by the poet Herybert Menzel.[58] Jäckel was concerned that the poem in question had been accompanied by a letter on Nazi party stationery guaranteeing it as a genuine work by Hitler. Many of the other pieces in Stiefel's collection were similarly verified, so doubts began to surface over those too. Kujau claimed ignorance, saying he was only the middleman, but told them that Heidemann, a reputed journalist, had seen the crash site from which the papers originated; Jäckel advised Stiefel to have his collection forensically examined,[59] and passed 26 suspect poems to the Hamburg district attorney for investigation.[k] Gruner + Jahr also knew about the problems with the poems, and that the source had been Kujau, but he informed them that the source had been East Germany, unconnected to the diaries, and they continued with their deal.[61]

Ten days after the meeting with Jäckel and Kuhn, Kujau had prepared three further diaries. The contents were copied from a range of books, newspapers and magazines covering Hitler's life. Primary among them was the two-volume work by the historian Max Domarus, Hitler: Reden und Proklamationen, 1932–45 (Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations, 1932–45), which presents Hitler's day-to-day activities; Kujau plagiarised this particularly heavily. Many of the diary's entries were lists of Nazi party promotions and official engagements. Although Kujau created some personal information about Hitler in the diaries, this was, in the opinion of both Harris and Hamilton, trivia.[62][63] He began working to a schedule of producing three diaries a month. He later stated that he managed to produce one of the volumes in three hours; on a separate occasion he wrote three diaries in three days.[64]

On 17 February 1981 Kujau flew to Stuttgart and gave Heidemann the three recently prepared diaries,[l] for which Heidemann only gave him 35,000 marks, not the promised 120,000—40,000 marks per diary—from which Heidemann would also claim a 10% commission.[65] The following day the reporter delivered them to Gruner + Jahr. In the subsequent meeting with Walde, Hensmann, Sorge and Fischer, Heidemann and Walde again insisted on secrecy about the project, in order to ensure they obtained the remainder of the diaries, and it was agreed that not even the editors of Stern should be told of the discovery. More importantly it was decided that they should not have the material examined by a forensic scientist or historian until all the diaries had been obtained. Fischer committed the company to the future purchases by immediately allocating 1 million marks to the project.[66] The company also set up a dedicated unit to deal with the diaries in an annex to the main Gruner + Jahr offices. It was headed by Walde, and consisted of an assistant, two secretaries and Heidemann. On receipt of the diaries they were photocopied and transcribed from gothic script into modern Hochdeutsch (high, or standard, German).[67] Heidemann also entered into a private contract with Gruner + Jahr—one which was kept secret from the company's legal and personnel departments. It contained a deal for him to publish books through the company at a generous royalty rate, and agreed that ten years after publication the original diaries would be given to Heidemann for research purposes, to be handed on to the German government on his death. He was also to be given a bonus of 300,000 marks for recovering the first eight diaries.[68]

The explosion catastrophe in Reinsdorf is all I need. One ray of hope today was the dedication ceremony of the House of German Art in Munich.
But at any rate I can relax a bit with the architects. E [Eva Braun] now has two little puppies so time does not lie too heavily on her hands.
Must have a word with E. about Göring, too. His attitude towards her just isn't correct.

Diary entry of 30 June 1935, created by Kajau.[69]

The delivery of the diaries continued, although there were tensions between Heidemann and Kujau, partly due to the journalist's "domineering personality and duplicity [which] constantly irritated Kujau".[70] Because of the nature of the transactions there were no receipts provided by Heidemann to Gruner + Jahr, and the business was conducted by the company on the basis of trust. By the end of February 1981, 680,000 marks had been paid for the diaries, only around half of which was received by Kujau. Heidemann had stolen the rest, defrauding both his employer and the forger in the process.[71]

Despite the self-imposed restrictions of secrecy placed on the small circle inside Gruner + Jahr, Heidemann could not resist showing one of the volumes to Mohnke, as the entry referred to the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Mohnke's former regiment. Heidemann read out three entries from the diaries—from 15, 17 and 18 March—which concerned visits made by Hitler to the regiment while in the Lichterfelde and Friesenstraße barracks. Mohnke informed him that the entries were inaccurate, saying that the Lichterfelde barracks were not occupied by the troops on that date, that the regimental name used in the diary was introduced much later, and that Hitler never visited the Friesenstraße barracks. Heidemann was unmoved by his friend's revelation, and stated that Hitler had probably written what he was planning to do, not what he had done. Harris considers that this showed that the journalist "had long ceased operating on a rational wavelength about the diaries".[72]

The circle of those at Gruner + Jahr who knew about the diaries grew in May 1981 when Fischer decided to look into the complicated copyright circumstances surrounding Hitler's property.[m] He discussed the matter with the company's legal advisor, Dr Andreas Ruppert, who advised speaking to Werner Maser, a historian who acted as a trustee on such matters to the Hitler family.[74] Heidemann visited Maser in June 1981 and came to a deal that enabled him and Stern, for 20,000 marks, to retain "the rights to all the discovered or purchased documents or notes in the hand of Adolf Hitler ... which have so far not yet been published".[75]

Quotes from the diaries
  • "The English are driving me crazy—should I let them escape [from Dunkirk], or not? How is this Churchill reacting?"
  • "This man Bormann has become indispensable to me. If I had had five Bormanns, I would not be sitting here now [in the Berlin bunker]."
  • "[Himmler is] living in another world—an ancient Germanic fantasy world. I'm beginning to think he's out of his mind."
  • "How on earth does Stalin manage it? Always imagined that he had no officers left, but he did the right thing [in purging the officer corps]. A new command structure in the Wehrmacht is what we need, too."
Diary entries created by Kajau and prominently used by Newsweek[76]

After twelve diaries had been delivered to Gruner + Jahr, the price rose from 85,000 marks to 100,000 marks; the reason given by Heidemann was that the East German general smuggling the diaries was now having to bribe more people. The additional money was retained by Heidemann and not passed on to Kajau. The journalist was starting to lead a profligate lifestyle on his illicit profits, including two new cars (a convertible BMW and a Porsche, for a combined total of 58,000 marks), renting two new flats on the exclusive Elbchaussee and jewellery. He also spent considerable sums acquiring new Nazi memorabilia. Some was genuine, such as Wolff's SS honour dagger, but much was purchased from Kujau, including 300 forged oil paintings, drawings and sketches Kujau claimed were by Hitler; the Blutfahne (Blood flag), the standard carried in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, Germany on 9 November 1923 which had been stained by those shot by police; and the gun Hitler had used to commit suicide. All carried notes, forged by Kujau, which stated that the objects were genuine.[77]

The purchases of the diaries continued throughout mid to late 1981: Gruner + Jahr gave Heidemann 345,000 marks on 29 July, and a further 220,000 marks a week later, which brought the total up to 1.81 million marks since the start of the year. This had purchased 18 diaries for the company. Schulte-Hillen, the new managing director, signed an authorisation for a further million marks for future purchases.[78] Just over two weeks later he signed a further authorisation for 600,000 marks after Heidemann told him that the cost of the diaries had now risen to 200,000 marks each; Heidemann also passed on the news that there were more than 27 diaries.[57]

In mid-December 1982 the right-wing author David Irving was also involved in tracking the existence of diaries written by Hitler.[n] Priesack had previously told Irving of the existence of one of the diaries with a collector in Stuttgart. In a visit to Priesack to assess his collection of Nazi documents, Irving found out Stiefel's phone number, from which he worked out the address; he also obtained photocopies of some of the diary pages from Priesack. Irving visited Stiefel unannounced and tried to find out the name of the source, but the collector misled him as to the origin. Irving examined Priesack's photocopies and saw a number of problems, including spelling mistakes and the change in writing style between certain words.[81][o]

Initial testing and verification; steps towards publication[edit]

In April 1982 Walde and Heidemann contacted Drs Josef Henke and Klaus Oldenhage of the Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives) and Dr Max Frei-Sulzer, the former head of the forensic department of the Zurich police for assistance in verifying the authenticity of the diaries. They did not mention the existence of the diaries, but referred generally to new material. They also did not give the forensic specialists an entire diary, but removed one page only. For comparison purposes they also provided the experts with other samples of Hitler's writing, a handwritten draft for a telegram: this was from Heidemann's own collection and had also previously been forged by Kujau. Within days Walde also provided further documents for comparison, all of which had again been forged by Kujau.[83] Walde then flew to the US and commissioned Ordway Hilton, another forensic expert.[p] None of those involved were experts in examining Nazi documents, and Hilton could not speak German, and Stern‍ '​s management were too bound up in a secretive approach to be open about their source, or to provide the experts with a complete diary, which would have led to a more thorough examination of wider material.[85] Comparing between the samples provided, the experts concluded that the handwriting was genuine. Hilton subsequently reported that "there was just no question" that both documents he had were written by the same person, which he assumed was Hitler.[86]

The purchase of the diaries continued, and by June 1982 Gruner + Jahr possessed 35 volumes.[87] In early 1983 the company took the decision to work towards a publication date for the diaries. To ensure wide readership and to maximise their returns, Stern issued a prospectus to potentially interested parties, Newsweek, Time, Paris Match and a syndicate of papers owned by Murdoch.[88] Stern rented a large vault in a Swiss bank. They filled the space with Nazi memorabilia and displayed various letters and manuscripts.[89]

The first historian to examine the diaries was Trevor-Roper, who was cautious, but impressed with the volume of documentation in front of him.[90] As the background to the acquisition was explained to him he became less doubtful, but he was lied to in the briefing: he was told that the paper had been chemically tested and been shown to be pre-war, and he was told that Stern knew the identity of the Wermacht officer who had rescued the documents from the plane and had stored them ever since.[91] By the end of the meeting he was convinced that the diaries were genuine, and later said "who, I asked myself, would forge sixty volumes when six would have served his purpose?"[92] In an article in The Times on 23 April 1983 he wrote:

A colour photograph of a balding and grey haired man facing the camera
Gerhard Weinberg, who considered the diaries genuine when verifying them for Newsweek, and then changed his mind.

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.[93]

The day after Trevor-Roper gave his opinion of authenticity, Murdoch and his negotiation team arrived in Zurich. A deal was provisionally agreed for $2.5 million for the serialisation rights for the US, with an additional $750,000 for Britain and the Commonwealth. While the discussions between Murdoch and Sorge were taking place, the diaries were examined by Broyle and his Newsweek team. After lengthy negotiation Broyle was informed that the minimum price they would consider was $3 million; the Americans returned home, informing Hensmann that they would contact him by phone in two days;[94] when Broyle contacted the Germans he offered the amount, subject to authentication by their chosen expert, Gerhard Weinberg. Weinberg travelled to Zurich and, like Trevor-Roper, was impressed and reassured by the range of items on show. He commented that "the notion of anyone forging hundreds, even thousands of pages of handwriting was hard to credit".[95]

Hensmann accepted Newsweek‍ '​s offer and informed Murdoch, giving him the option to raise his bid. Murdoch was furious, having considered that the handshakes agreement they had in Zurich would have been honoured.[96] On 15 April 1983 Murdoch, with Mark Edmiston, the president of Newsweek, had a meeting with Schulte-Hillen, who went back on all the previous agreements and told them the price was now $4.25 million. Murdoch and Edmiston refused to accede to the new price and both left. The managers of Stern, with no publishing partners, backtracked on their statements and came to a second deal with Murdoch, who drove the price down, paying $800,000 for the US rights, and $400,000 for the British and Australian rights. Further deals were done in France with Paris Match for $400,000; in Spain with Grupo Zeta for $150,000; in the Netherlands for $125,000; in Norway for $50,000; and in Italy with Panorama for $50,000. Newsweek did not enter into a deal and instead based their subsequent stories on the copies of the diaries they had seen during the negotiation period.[97]

Released to the news; the Stern press conference[edit]

The two British experts who changed their minds:
A photograph of a black and white grey-haired and spectacled man in his sixties is looking at the viewer. He wear a dark suit and tie, and is holding a copy of one of the books he has written.
The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper in 1975
A colour photograph of a grey-haired, thick-set man in his sixties looks directly at the viewer. He wears an open-necked short and red pullover, and holds his spectacles in front of him.
The author David Irving in 2003

On 22 April 1983 a press release from Stern announced the existence of the diaries and their forthcoming publication; a press conference was announced for 25 April.[98] On hearing the news from Stern, Jäckel stated that he was "extremely sceptical" about the diaries, while his fellow historian, Karl Dietrich Bracher of the University of Bonn also thought it unlikely. Irving was receiving calls from international news companies—the BBC, The Observer, Newsweek, Bild Zeitung—and he was informing them all that the diaries were fakes.[99] The German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, also said that he could not believe it was true.[100] The following day The Times published the news that their Sunday sister paper had the serialisation rights for the UK; the edition also carried an extensive piece by Trevor-Roper with his opinion on the genuineness and importance of the discovery. By this stage the historian had growing doubts over the diary, and he contacted the editor of The Times, Charles Douglas-Home; Trevor-Roper told him about the doubts. Douglas-Home presumed the historian would also contact Giles at The Sunday Times to let him know, while Trevor-Roper thought Douglas-Home would do so; neither told him, and no-one at the Sunday paper was aware of the growing concerns of the authenticity of the diaries.[101]

On the evening of 23 April the presses began rolling for the following day's edition of The Sunday Times. At an evening meeting of the editorial staff Giles decided to phone Trevor-Roper to ask him to write a piece rebutting the criticism of the diaries. When he spoke to the historian, he found out that he had done "a 180 degree turn" in his opinion. The paper's deputy editor, Brian MacArthur, rang Murdoch to see if they should stop the print run and re-write the affected pages. Murdoch's reply was "Fuck Dacre. Publish".[102][103]

On the afternoon of the 24 April, in Hamburg for the press conference the following day, Trevor-Roper asked Heidemann for the name of his source: the journalist refused to give it, but gave the historian another version of the story he had been given for the acquisition of the diaries. Trevor-Roper was suspicious and questioned the reporter closely for over an hour.[104] Heidemann accused the historian of acting "exactly like an officer of the British army" in 1945.[103] At a subsequent dinner the historian was evasive when asked by Stern executives what he was going to say at the press conference.[105]

At the press conference both Trevor-Roper and Weinberg expressed their doubts at the authenticity, and stated that German experts needed to examine the diaries to confirm their authenticity. He went on to say that his doubts sprung from the lack of proof that these books were the same ones as had been on the crashed plane in 1945. He finished his statement by saying that "I regret that the normal method of historical verification has been sacrificed to the perhaps necessary requirements of a journalistic scoop."[106] The leading article in The Guardian described his public reversal as showing "moral courage".[107] Shortly after Trevor-Roper's statement, proceedings began to become less calm. Irving, who had been described in the introductory statement by Koch as an historian "with no reputation to lose", stood at the microphone for questions, and asked how Hitler could have written his diary in the days following the 20 July plot, when his arm had been damaged. He denounced the diaries as forgeries, and held aloft the photocopied pages he had been given from Priesack. He asked if the ink in the diaries had been tested, but there was no response from the managers of Stern. Photographers and film crews jostled to get a better picture of Irving, and some punches were thrown by journalists while security guards moved in and forcibly dragged Irving from the room, while he shouted "Ink! Ink!".[108][109][110]

Forensic analysis and the uncovering of the frauds[edit]

With the grave doubts about the authenticity of the diaries, Stern now faced the possibility of legal action for disseminating Nazi propaganda. To ensure a definitive judgment on the diaries, Dr Hagen, one of the company's lawyers, passed three complete diaries to Dr Henke at the Bundesarchiv for a more complete forensic examination.[111] While the debate on the diaries' authenticity continued, Stern published its special edition on 28 April, with information on the flight of Hess to England and Hitler's thoughts on Kristallnacht and the Holocaust.[98] The following day Heidemann again met with Kujau, buying the last four diaries from him.[112]

On the following Sunday—1 May 1983—The Sunday Times published further stories providing the background to the diaries, linking them more closely to the plane crash in 1945, and providing a profile of Heidemann. That day, when The Daily Express rang Irving for a further comment on the diaries, he informed them that he now believed the diaries to be genuine; The Times ran the story of Irving's U-turn the following day. The same day Hagen visited the Bundesarchiv and was told of their findings: ultraviolet light had shown a fluorescent element to the paper, which should not have been present in an old document, and that the bindings of one of the diaries included polyester which had not been made until 1953. Research in the archives also showed a number of factual errors.[113] The findings were partial only, and not binding; more volumes were provided to aid the analysis.[114]

Genuine signature of Adolf Hitler
Genuine Hitler signature (undated)
Forged version of Hitler's signature, showing slight differences from the original
Kujau's version of Hitler's signature, which Kenneth W. Rendell described as a "terrible rendition".[115]

When Hagen reported back to the Stern management, an emergency meeting was called and the identity of Heidemann's source was demanded. The journalist relented, and provided the chain of the diaries as Kujau had given it to him. Harris describes how a bunker mentality descended on the Stern management as instead of accepting the truth of the Bundesarchiv's findings, they searched for alternative explanations as to how post-war whitening agents could have been used in the wartime paper. The paper then released a statement defending their position which Harris considers was "resonant with hollow bravado".[116]

While Koch was touring the US, giving interviews to most of the major news channels, he met Kenneth W. Rendell, a handwriting expert in the studios of CBS. His first impression was that the diaries were forged. He later reported that "everything looked wrong", including new-looking ink, poor quality paper and signatures that were "terrible renditions" of Hitler's.[117] Rendell concludes the diaries were not particularly good fakes, calling them "bad forgeries but a great hoax". He states 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."[118]

On 4 May fifteen volumes of the diaries were removed from the Swiss bank vault and distributed to various forensic scientists: four went to the Bundesarchiv and eleven went to the Swiss specialists in St Gallen. The initial results were ready on 6 May, which confirmed what the forensic experts had been telling the management of Stern for the last week: the diaries were poor forgeries, with modern components and ink that was not in common use in wartime Germany. Measurements had been taken of the evaporation of chloride in the ink which showed the diaries had been written within the previous two years. There were also factual errors, including those that had occurred in Domarus's Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations which Kujau had copied across. By the time the news was passed from the Bundesarchiv to Stern, they had already passed it to the government, saying it was "a ministerial matter". The managers at Stern tried to release a press statement that acknowledged the forensic findings and stated that the diaries were forged, but the official government announcement was released five minutes beforehand.[119]

Arrests and trial[edit]

Once the government announcement appeared on television Kujau decided that it was best if he left Germany for a while and he took his wife and mistress to Austria. After he saw a news report a few days later, naming him as the forger, and hearing that Stern had paid nine million marks, he first phoned his lawyer and then the Hamburg State prosecutor; the forger agreed to hand himself in the following day at the German-Austrian border. When police raided his house they found several identical notebooks to those used in the fraud. Kujau continued to use a variation of the story he had told Heidemann—that of obtaining the diaries from the east—but he was bitter that the journalist was still at liberty, and had withheld so much money from Stern. After thirteen days, on 26 May, he wrote a full confession, stating that Heidemann knew all along that the diaries had been forgeries.[120] Heidemann was arrested that evening.[121]

Following a long police investigation that lasted over a year, on 21 August 1984 the trial against Heidemann and Kujau opened in Hamburg. Both men were charged with defrauding Stern of 9.3 million marks.[122][123][q] "Despite the seriousness of the charges facing the two men, Hamilton considers that "it also appeared clear that the trial was going to be a farce, a real slapstick affair that would enrage the judge and amuse the entire world."[126]

The trial lasted until July 1985 when both men were sent to prison: four years and eight months for Heidemann, four years and six months for Kujau. In his summing up Judge Hans-Ulrich Schroeder said that "the negligence of Stern has persuaded me to soften the sentences against the two main co-conspirators."[124][127] Heidemann was found guilty of stealing 1.7 million marks from Stern; Kujau guilty of receiving 1.5 million marks for his role in the forgeries. Despite the lengthy investigation and subsequent trial, there were still at least five million marks unaccounted for.[128]

Aftermath[edit]

A photograph of a man in his fifties looking at the camera. He is wearing an open-collared blue shirt and a blue jacket.
The journalist Robert Harris, who published an account of the hoax

When Kujau was released from prison in 1987 he was suffering from throat cancer. He opened a gallery in Stuttgart and sold "forgeries" of Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, all signed with his own name.[129] Although he prospered, Kujau was later arrested for forging driving licences; he was fined the equivalent of £2,000. He died in September 2000.[130]

Heidemann was also released from prison in 1987.[131] Five years later it was revealed that in the 1950s he had been recruited by the Stasi, the East German secret police, to monitor the arrival of American nuclear weapons into West Germany.[132] In 2008 he had debts exceeding €700,000, and was living on social security;[133] his situation had not changed by 2013, and he remained bitter about his treatment.[134]

Koch and Schmidt were the two editors at Stern who lost their jobs because of the scandal. Both editors complained strongly when told that their resignations were expected, pointing out that both had wanted to sack Heidemann in 1981. A large settlement of 3.5 million marks (c. $1 million) was provided to each of them as part of the severance package.[135] The staff at the magazine were angry at the approach taken by their managers, and held sit-ins to protest at the "management's bypassing traditional editorial channels and safeguards".[136] The scandal caused a major crisis for Stern, and the magazine "once known for its investigative reporting, became a prime example of sensation seeking checkbook journalism". Stern's credibility was severely damaged and it took the magazine ten years to regain its pre-scandal status and reputation.[29] The scandal was also "instrumental in discrediting the tendency toward an 'unprejudiced' and euphemistic assessment of the Third Reich in West German popular culture", according to the German Historical Institute.[137]

Murdoch moved Giles to the new position of editor emeritus. When Giles asked what the title meant, Mudoch informed him that "It's Latin, Frank; the e means you're out and the meritus means you deserved it."[138] In April 2012, during the Leveson Inquiry, Murdoch acknowledged his role in publishing the diaries, and took the blame for making the decision, saying "It was a massive mistake I made and I will have to live with it for the rest of my life."[139] Trevor-Roper died in 2003. Despite a long and respected career as a historian, his role in the scandal left his reputation "permanently besmirched", according to Richard Davenport-Hines, his biographer.[34][r] In January 1984 Broyles resigned as editor of Newsweek, ostensibly to "pursue new entrepreneurial ventures".[141]

In 1986 the journalist Robert Harris published an account of the hoax, Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries.[142] Five years later Selling Hitler, a five-episode drama-documentary series based on Harris's book, was broadcast on the British ITV channel. It starred Jonathan Pryce as Heidemann, Alexei Sayle as Kujau, Tom Baker as Fischer, Alan Bennett as Trevor-Roper, Roger Lloyd-Pack as Irving, Richard Wilson as Nannen and Barry Humphries as Murdoch.[143] Later that year Charles Hamilton published the second book to investigate the forgeries: The Hitler Diaries.[144] In 1992 the story of the diaries was adapted to the big screen by Helmut Dietl, with his satirical German-language film Schtonk!.[145] The film, which starred Götz George as Heidemann and Uwe Ochsenknecht as Kujau won three Deutscher Filmpreis awards and nominations for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.[146][147]

In 2004 one of the diaries was sold at auction for €6,400 to an unknown buyer;[148] the remainder were handed over by Stern to the Bundesarchiv in 2013.[136]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In 1959 he was fined 80 Deutsche Marks for stealing tobacco; in 1960 he was sent to prison for nine months after being caught breaking into a storeroom to steal cognac; in 1961 he spent more time in prison after stealing five crates of fruit; six months later he was arrested after getting into a fight with his employer while employed as a cook in a bar.[3]
  2. ^ In April 1983—the time when Stern launched the diaries—UK£1 was worth 3.76 Deutsche marks and US$1 was worth 2.44 marks[5]
  3. ^ Both the Kujaus were stopped crossing the border between the two Germanys, although only once each, and with no penalty but the confiscation of the contraband.[9][10]
  4. ^ Kujau had an obsession with guns. One night in February 1973, while drunk, he took a loaded machine gun to confront a man he thought had been slashing the tyres of the cleaning company van. The man ran off and Kujau chased him into the wrong doorway, where he terrified a prostitute; her screams brought the police, who arrested Kujau. When they searched his flat they found five pistols, a machine gun, a shotgun and three rifles. Kujau apologised and was given a fine.[11]
  5. ^ Hitler had painted during his time in the trenches of World War One until his paints and brushes were stolen in a convalescence camp at the end of the war.[15]
  6. ^ According to a later investigation by the Hamburg state prosecutor, Stiefel spent 250,000 marks buying memorabilia from Kujau. His obsession in obtaining paintings, notes, speeches, poems and letters purportedly from Hitler led to him defrauding his own company by 180,000 marks.[17]
  7. ^ Heidemann photographed and reported on action in the Congo, Biafra, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Uganda, Beirut and Oman.[21]
  8. ^ Göring had been given the yacht in 1937 and had named it after his late wife. At the end of the war it was impounded by Field marshal Bernard Montgomery, who presented it to the British royal family. They renamed it the Royal Albert, and then changed its name to the Prince Charles, after his birth. In 1960 it was returned to Göring's widow.[23]
  9. ^ £60,000 in 1968 equates to approximately £930,000 in 2015, while £250,000 equates to £3,870,000, according to calculations based on Consumer Price Index measure of inflation.[32]
  10. ^ The book was based on Trevor-Roper's work for the British Intelligence Services during the Second World War. He had undertaken an official investigation of Hitler's death.[34]
  11. ^ The Hamburg authorities looked into the problem and reported back in 1983, too late to stop the debacle at Stern.[60]
  12. ^ Hamilton puts the date of delivery of the first diaries as mid-January.[63]
  13. ^ Harris describes how "determining ownership of Hitler's estate was complex, indeed almost impossible". In 1948 the State of Bavaria had seized all Hitler's property, including 5 million marks due as royalties on Mein Kampf, and declared his will invalid. In 1951 they seized personal objects bequeathed by the German leader to stop their sale, but had been unable to stop the publication of Tischgespräche im Führerhauptquartier (Hitler's Table Talk) because their rights only covered previously published material. Further complications arose from private deals made by individual members of the Hitler family.[73]
  14. ^ In 2000 Irving sued the American historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel, after Lipstadt published Denying the Holocaust, in which she called Irving a Holocaust denialist. Finding for the defendants, the court found that Irving was an active Holocaust denier, anti-Semite and racist.[79] In 2006 Irving was imprisoned in Austria for denying the Holocaust took place.[80]
  15. ^ Stiefel retained his diary, and refused to sell it back to Kujau. In order to ensure he sold a full set of diaries to Heidemann, Kujau forged a second diary to cover the volume. Heidemann knew this was a second version, and still wanted the original. He offered 15,000 marks for the diary, and Stiefel finally agreed to the sale, which ensured that Heidemann had two diaries for the period. Heidemann requested a new title to the front page—"Notes for the working team of the party". When he delivered the second volume to Stern‍ '​s offices, he explained its existence by saying that Hitler occasionally wrote two volumes: one for himself and one for the party.[82]
  16. ^ Hilton, a former forensic worker at the New York City Police Department, was a member of the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.[84]
  17. ^ At the time the case went to court, 9.3 million marks equated to £2.33 million[124] or $3.7 million.[125]
  18. ^ At the time a limerick was circulating round Cambridge:

    There once was a fellow named Dacre,
    Who was God in his own little acre,
    But in the matter of diaries,
    He was quite ultra vires,
    And unable to spot an old faker.[140]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Harris 1991, pp. 105–06.
  3. ^ Harris 1991, p. 106.
  4. ^ Harris 1991, p. 107.
  5. ^ Harris 1991, p. 9.
  6. ^ Hamilton 1991, p. 8.
  7. ^ Harris 1991, pp. 107–08.
  8. ^ Hamilton 1991, p. 9.
  9. ^ Harris 1991, p. 109.
  10. ^ "How They Spun the Web". The Sunday Times (London). 11 December 1983. pp. 33–34. 
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  13. ^ Hamilton 1991, p. 11.
  14. ^ a b Harris 1991, p. 112.
  15. ^ Hamilton 1991, p. 13.
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  17. ^ a b Harris 1991, pp. 115–16.
  18. ^ Hamilton 1991, p. 17.
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  21. ^ Harris 1991, p. 60.
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  145. ^ Johnstone, Iain (24 January 1993). "Not a Genuine Fake". The Sunday Times (London). p. 14. 
  146. ^ "Helmut Dietl; German director who won an Oscar nomination for a Nazi-themed satire". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2 April 2015. p. 35. 
  147. ^ Rentschler 2003, p. 181.
  148. ^ "Fake Hitler diary sold for 6,500 euros at auction". Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 23 April 2004. 

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