“Hitler’s Diaries Discovered!” screamed enthusiast the front page of the German magazine Stern on this day while, more conservatively, the Sunday Times in London, which had agreed to pay paid Stern £600,000 to share in the glory of this stunning story, offered its readers a “world exclusive” on “The Secrets of Hitler’s War.”
But, in order: German journalist Gerd Heinemann had told Stern that 62 volumes of diaries written by the Führer between 1932 and 1945 had been recovered from a plane crash in East Germany at the end of the war. As a result, the magazine paid out £2.5 million for them.
However, it turned out they were fake, created by Konrad Kajau, a notorious Stuttgart forger, and an antiques dealer calling himself Herr Fischer.
Before paying out, Stern had employed experts to compare handwriting in the “diaries” with other examples of Hitler’s writing.
They concluded, to the magazine’s initial great satisfaction, that all were written by the same person. Yes, they were right, but it later turned out that the “genuine” Hitler handwriting they looked at had also been forged by Kajau himself.
In London, Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times had turned for assurance to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper who enjoyed huge academic prestige after publication in 1947 of his book, “The Last Days of Hitler”. He told bosses at the newspaper he was satisfied that the “diaries” were genuine, but later became skeptical, and expressed his doubts when Stern admitted it did not know the identity of the East German source supplying the volumes.
With suspicion mounting, and amid fears of possibly facing charges of illegally circulating Nazi propaganda, Stern submitted three of the volumes to West German police for examination.
Forensic analysis quickly revealed that they were fakes, the paper and ink used for the “diaries” not being available until well after the war, and they had actually been produced between 1981–83 by Kujau, who had previously forged and sold paintings which he also claimed were the work of Hitler.
Heidemann, making the most of his opportunities, had been creaming off money from Stern by inflating the sums that he claimed had been demanded by Kujau. So, after the forgery was revealed, he was convicted of fraud and, like Kujau, was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
As a result of the “Hitler Diaries” fiasco, also two top editors at Stern were fired, and the reputation of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who became Lord Dacre and died in 2003, never fully recovered.
In any case Kujau, brazen and opportunistic, never looked back: after his release from prison, not wishing to waste his skills, he opened a gallery selling his “genuine forgeries” of paintings by Hitler, but also Rembrandt, Dali, Monet, Van Gogh, and other masters. The works sold at high prices and became so popular that other forgers moved in and began to produce counterfeit reproductions of his counterfeits…