Knowing Germany was about to be overrun by the Allies, Adolph Hitler boxed many of his personal items and had them flown to a secret location for storage. The plane carrying the items, a Junkers 352 transport, crashed near the town of Boernersdorf in April 1945. Hitler’s private belongings ended up in the hands of the locals - and disappeared from history.
It was not until 1979 that some of these items surfaced. Gerd Heidemann, an investigative reporter for the German magazine Stern, found some of these items for sale, including a black book that was one of Hitler’s secret diaries. In 1981, Heidemann convinced his employer to purchase the historic find.
In researching the diary, Heidemann was led to another man, Konrad Fischer, who had another 27 volumes. In turn, this led him to an East German general that also had some of Hitler’s diaries. In the end, Stern magazine had paid nearly 10 million Deutschmarks, or about $4 million, for 62 volumes of Hitler’s diaries.
Handwriting analysis and other tests showed the diaries to be authentic, tested by a number of experts in World War II history, notably the historians Hugh Trevor-Roper, Eberhard Jackel and Gerhard Weinberg. At a press conference on April 25, 1983, the diaries were declared by these experts to be authentic. Even though they had not yet been properly examined by scientists, Trevor-Roper endorsed the diaries thus:
"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." The same day, Stern magazine broke the story by printing the first of a series entitled "Hitlers Tagebucher Entdeckt" or "Hitler’s Diary Discovered."
Europe went crazy over the story. The huge printing was completely sold out, and made the magazine a bundle of money. Immediately, newspapers and magazines around the world made bids for the rights to the story. This alone would make the Stern magazine a fortune.
The first of the printed diaries showed Hitler to be a kinder and gentler man than the world was led to believe. His writings suggested he had little knowledge of the concentration camps and believed the Jews had been merely deported to other countries. This, of course, raised the suspicions of many.
Those who were associated with Hitler claimed he loathed writing, and his surviving secretary had no knowledge of the Fuehrer keeping a diary. Within two weeks the Hitler Diaries were revealed by Dr Julius Grant as being "grotesquely superficial fakes" made on modern paper using modern ink and full of historical inaccuracies. The autograph expert Kenneth W. Rendell also concluded they were not particularly good fakes. He called them "bad forgeries but a great hoax." Some point out that the most obvious fakery was the monogram on the title page reading ’FH’ instead of ’AH’ (for Adolf Hitler) - even though in the old German typeface those letters looked strikingly similar. However, ’FH’ could conceivably stand for "Fuhrerhauptquartier" ("Fuhrer Headquarters"). Content had been largely copied from a book of Hitler’s speeches with additional ’personal’ comments.
The volumes for which Stern had paid millions were worthless forgeries. The diaries were a complete hoax. Heidemann was immediately fired and suspected of being the forger. A full-blown investigation cleared Heidemann of these charges. However, they did find the original owner of the diaries, Konrad Fischer, was actually Konrad Kujau - a known criminal who specialized in forgery. It was learned that Kujau had spent most of his life forging Nazi and Hitler documents, including the forgery of paintings that were long believed to be those of the former Nazi leader.
In fact, when the Stern magazine had Hitler’s handwriting in the diaries tested, it was discovered the original documents used for comparison were actually more of Kujau’s handiwork. No wonder the handwriting was a match. This, at least, exonerated Stern magazine from being an intentional partner in the hoax.
Kujau was brought to trial and sentenced to 4-1/2 years in prison. His wife, Edith, was sentenced to eight months. Heidemann was also tried and found guilty of skimming some of Stern’s payments. He was also sentenced to 4-1/2 years. Very little of the $4 million paid for the journals was recovered.
Hitler’s secret diaries hoax remains one of the best publishing hoaxes in modern times.
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