German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The German weekly magazine Stern published excerpts of a manuscript believed to be the diaries of Adolf Hitler. The diaries were found to be forged, however, leading to one of the most notorious publishing and forgery scandals of the twentieth century.

Summary of Event

Konrad Kujau, a German collector of memorabilia, claimed to be in possession of sixty-two volumes of the secret “diaries” of Adolf Hitler. The diaries included details from Hitler’s life between 1932 and days before his suicide on April 30, 1945. Kujau said he found the diaries in Börnersdorf, near Dresden, in the possession of farmers who discovered them in the wreckage of a Nazi SS plane that had crashed on April 21, 1945. [kw]Faked Hitler Diaries, German Magazine Publishes (Apr. 25, 1983) [kw]Hitler Diaries, German Magazine Publishes Faked (Apr. 25, 1983) Diaries;Adolf Hitler[Hitler] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;faked diaries Stern, Der (magazine) Kujau, Konrad Heidemann, Gerd Heidemann, Gerd Diaries;Adolf Hitler[Hitler] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;faked diaries Stern, Der (magazine) Kujau, Konrad Heidemann, Gerd Heidemann, Gerd [g]Europe;Apr. 25, 1983: German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries[02040] [g]Germany;Apr. 25, 1983: German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries[02040] [c]Forgery;Apr. 25, 1983: German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries[02040] [c]Hoaxes, frauds, and charlatanism;Apr. 25, 1983: German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries[02040] [c]Publishing and journalism;Apr. 25, 1983: German Magazine Publishes Faked Hitler Diaries[02040] Trevor-Roper, Hugh

Kujau, who used the name Konrad Fischer, was an accomplished forger and antiquarian dealer. In addition to selling genuine items from his large memorabilia collection, he sold some of his forgeries with great success, making him a criminal as well. He even sold paintings allegedly created by Hitler. Kujau also forged handwritten copies of Hitler’s infamous two-volume book Mein Kampf (1925-1926; My Struggle, 1939, complete translation). He fabricated inscriptions and additions and sold them to unsuspecting collectors. Any authority on the period, however, would know that the original manuscript of Mein Kampf had been typewritten, not handwritten.

Journalist Gerd Heidemann holds up the alleged diaries of Adolf Hitler at a Stern magazine news conference in Hamburg, Germany, on April 25, 1983. The diaries later proved to be forgeries.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In 1979, Gerd Heidemann, a reporter for the popular German weekly magazine Stern (star), obtained some of the diaries (Kujau’s forgeries) but would not disclose where he got them. Before making contact with Kujau, he had learned of the 1945 crash of the SS plane and the existence of a mysterious box that contained almost thirty volumes of the diaries; the box, as it turned out, was in Kujau’s possession. (Heidemann, who had been in the Hitlerjugend—the Hitler Youth movement—as a boy, was fascinated with the Nazi period and even knew a number of prominent former Nazis.)

Heidemann urged Kujau to sell the diaries to Stern, but Kujau initially was reluctant to sell for fear of being found out as a fraud. The offer, however, was too tempting. Kujau agreed to the sale but requested that his name be left out of the arrangements. He then forged more of the diaries in preparation for their transfer to Stern. He delivered the first “volumes” to Heidemann in January, 1981. Stern editors accepted them without questioning their authenticity. Kujau provided more diaries, and Stern greeted each one with enthusiasm, paying Kujau and Heidemann premiums.

Stern began to offer the diaries to other publications, including the Sunday Times of London Times of London for serialization, but for a fee. The Sunday Times, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, purchased the diaries for $400,000, of which it paid half, before the forgery became known.

The editors of Stern, who debated whether to publish the diary excerpts before checking for authenticity, sent several photocopied pages from the diaries to the German Federal Archives (GFA). They also sent page copies to the noted British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who had worked as a military historian for the British armed services during World War II and had written several books and articles on Hitler, including the popular and well-received book The Last Days of Hitler. It should be noted, however, that despite his work on the war period and Nazi Germany, Trevor-Roper’s main area of expertise was seventeenth century England. After his examination of the handwriting samples, Trevor-Roper assured the editors the diaries were real, stating, “I would stake my reputation” on their authenticity.

Within days, the publishers became skeptical. Stern asked Heidemann to look at the charges more closely. Heidemann, whose own interests depended on the dairies’ authenticity, merely asked Kujau if the diaries were real. Naturally, Kujau assured Heidemann they were authentic. Stern held a dramatic press conference, led by editor in chief Peter Koch, on April 22, 1983, to announce its possession of the priceless diaries. Two days later, the Sunday Times announced its own acquisition of copies of the diaries in the news article, “Hitler’s Secret Diaries to be Published.” The following day, April 25, Stern published excerpts from the diaries, boldly announcing on its cover, “Hitlers Tagebücher entdeckt” (Hitler’s diaries discovered).

By not allowing experts to examine the diaries directly before publication, Stern fell into a serious situation. Any reputable Hitler expert could have easily discovered the fraud. Upon publication of the diary excerpts, some experts were taken by their enthusiasm for such a find, but others were skeptical and saw clear inconsistencies. Kujau claimed that the diaries were in Hitler’s own hand. Historians of the period argued that this was doubtful because Hitler suffered serious injuries in the attempt on his life in 1944 by a group of army officers, and he could not write legibly because of the injuries. Furthermore, those persons close to Hitler said that he had little time to write and would not do so if he could. In addition, the entries in the diaries were inane. They showed little new information and much of what they did show contradicted other documents and archives. For example, the diaries indicated that Hitler was not personally Holocaust;and Adolf Hitler[Hitler] involved with much of the actions against the Jews and the Holocaust.

David Irving, David Irving, a well-known and respected scholar on Hitler, first proclaimed that the handwriting and language were not those of Hitler. He would later say the diaries were real. The uproar caused by the skeptics prompted Stern to seek further authentication. However, the effort backfired. A group of experts, including chemists, showed that ink used in the diaries and the bindings on the volumes were of postwar composition and that the diaries could not have been written before 1945. On May 6, the GFA in Koblenz proclaimed the diaries to be a fraud.

The publisher and editors of Stern, embarrassed and shocked by the revelation, fired Heidemann and others responsible for the fraud. The police also sought Kujau, who initially claimed that he had bought the diaries from someone in East Germany, but his story was filled with inconsistencies. Finally, Kujau admitted his guilt and implicated Heidemann in the plot because the reporter did not give him a full share of money he received from Stern. On May 11, Stern announced that it would release the forgeries to prosecutors. The magazine had initially refused to do so.

Impact

In August, 1984, Kujau and Heidemann, along with Kujau’s wife, Edith Leibling, were tried. Kurt Groenewald, Kujau’s attorney, tried to lessen Kujau’s guilt by shifting the blame to Stern publishers, claiming that they had the responsibility of checking the authenticity of the diaries before not only publishing them but also buying them. He argued that Stern neglected to check against forgery because it was eager to improve Hitler’s public image and maximize its profits. Heidemann’s lawyers claimed that Kujau alone was the forger, that their client was not involved in the plot. They argued he kept none of the money paid for the diaries and also blamed Stern for the scandal. Leibling’s lawyers simply claimed she was not involved.

During trial, Stern witnesses were inconsistent in their testimony, leading Judge Hans-Ulrich Schroeder to conclude that they deserved much of the blame for the scandal. He said in his sentencing that the magazine “acted with such naivete and negligence that it was virtually an accomplice in the fraud.” The judges found all three of the defendants guilty. Kujau and Heidemann were sentenced to four and a half years (about half the maximum allowable) in prison, and Leibling received eight months probation.

Kujau was released from prison in 1988 because he was suffering from stomach cancer. He continued a life of petty crime until his death in 2000. For Stern, its reputation was severely damaged. Editor Koch resigned, as did other top editors. Many regard the publication of the fake diary excerpts as one of the lowest points in twentieth century journalism and magazine publishing, not only in Germany but also the world. Diaries;Adolf Hitler[Hitler] Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;faked diaries Stern, Der (magazine) Kujau, Konrad Heidemann, Gerd Heidemann, Gerd

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamilton, Charles. The Hitler Diaries: Fakes That Fooled the World. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1991. A somewhat superficial narrative of the hoax, written by a handwriting expert. Lacks the detail of Robert Harris’s account.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harris, Robert. Selling Hitler. London: Arrow Books, 2000. Relates the story of the scandal in detail. Includes an account of David Irving’s role in exposing the hoax.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Magnuson, Ed. “Hitler’s Forged Diaries.” Time, May 16, 1983. A comprehensive account of the hoax written in an accessible style. An excellent example of reportage from the time of the scandal. Also available online through Time magazine’s Web site.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rendell, Kenneth. Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Discusses the methods for detecting forgeries through examination of handwriting, paper, and ink. Uses the case of the forged Hitler diaries as an example of detection methods at work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rentschler, Eric. “The Fascination of a Fake: The Hitler Diaries.” New German Critique 90 (Fall, 2003): 177-192. A scholarly study of the forgery that argues the hoax was part of the sociological phenomenon of popular curiosity and fascination with Hitler and the Third Reich.

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