|A Ripperoo Article
|This article originally appeared in Ripperoo, the flagship magazine of the Australian Cloak and Dagger Club. For more information, view our Ripperoo page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperoo for permission to reprint this article.
By Leanne Perry
In April 1983, a German magazine paid $2.3 million dollars for 62 volumes of the newly discovered diaries of German dictator Adolf Hitler. The paper, the binding, the glue and the thread of these notebooks, were all found to be of post-war manufacture. This, plus the amount of money wasted ($4 million in total), make the Hitler diaries the most expensive fraud in publishing history.
By 1980, over 70 biographies had been written about Adolf Hitler. The public’s appetite for books about the lives of infamous people, like Adolf Hitler and ‘Jack the Ripper’, is enormous. There have been books about Hitler’s childhood, his years in Vienna, his service in the army, and books about his last days and death. There have been investigations in to his mind, his body, his personal security and his art.
The diaries were black, A4 sized, handwritten notebooks, (some bearing red-wax seals in the form of a German eagle). Most carried typed labels declaring them to be the property of the Führer and were signed by Martin Bormann. The lined pages were densely filled with old Germanic script, some held few sentences and some were completely blank. The story that was told is that they were flown out of Berlin, near the end of World War II, aboard an aircraft that was destined to crash. Farmers had found them, took them to Nazi document collector, Konrad Kujau, who then took them to Gerd Heidemann who was a journalist working for ‘Stern’ magazine.
Heidemann also received from Kujau three hundred oil paintings, sketches and watercolours supposedly by Hitler, Nazi Party uniforms, flags and postcards; 120 Hitler documents and the revolver that Hitler shot himself with. This gun was proved to be a fake, as it is known that Hitler used a much heavier weapon to kill himself.
The management of ‘Stern’, (over a course of two years), handed over twenty-seven suitcases full of money to enable Heidemann to obtain these diaries. News of their discovery made newspaper headlines in every nation. Eager to publish these ‘remarkable volumes’, ‘Stern’ began to serialize them, overlooking the historical inaccuracies within.
On April 9, knowing that sensationalism would attract tens of thousands of readers, Rupert Murdoch, (owner of ‘The London Times, ‘Sunday Times’ and ‘New York Post’), offered them 2.5 million dollars for the American rights, plus $750,000 for serialization in Britain and the Commonwealth. The American rights were bought by Americans William Broyles and Maynard Parker of ‘Newsweek’, after offering $500,000 more, but Murdoch was offered the British and Commonwealth rights. Representatives for Rupert Murdoch were enraged.
After loosing their tempers at a meeting, a ‘Stern’ representative sent them away with nothing.
After finding out about his failure, Rupert Murdoch said he was willing to pay $3.75 million dollars for world rights. ‘Stern’ representatives then got greedy and demanded $4.25 million. Both potential buyers, who had by now joined forces and agreed to share the rights if only one was successful with the deal, angrily said they were no longer interested. So ‘Stern’ were the losers.
While these negotiations were taking place, calls were made demanding tests for the authenticity of the diaries. There were people who thought that if the diaries were proven authentic, they should not be published. A diary was something intimate and human, so why should such a cruel man be allowed to justify what he did?
Three handwriting experts, Swiss Max Frei-Sultzer, American Ordway Hilton and American Kenneth Rendell, compared the documents with three samples known to be Hitler’s actual handwriting. All agreed that the diaries were authentic.
In London, the two volumes that were handed over to the ‘Sunday Times’, were quickly confirmed as forgeries.
Later forensic tests however, made on both the paper and the ink used, proved that the diaries were written after the war. Under ultraviolet light, the paper contained a substance introduced in 1954, and was laced with a chemical paper whitener which had not existed before 1955. The ink used did not match any inks known to have been widely used during the war. Scientists established that the 1943 diary was written within the last 12 months.
It was also a well known fact that Adolf Hitler hated putting pen to paper, preferring to dictate his letters. There is no evidence to suggest that the German dictator had had kept a diary. After writing his will, Hitler told his associates that the task demanded: “quite a special effort on on my part”.
When the forgery was exposed, Third Reich documents dealer Konrad Kujau, (the man who sold them to ‘Stern’), tried to flee from Germany. On Friday the 13th of May 1984, Dietrich Klein of the Hamburg Prosecutor’s Office, met Kujau at the Austrian border with a warrant for his arrest. Kujau agreed to give himself up, and was tried in Hamburg.
On its opening day, the Hitler Diaries trial drew an audience of 100 reporters, 150 photographers and television crewmen and around sixty members of the public. It was front page news for the first couple of days, but thereafter public interest dwindled.
Konrad Kujau was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months imprisonment. Journalist Gerd Heidemann was tried as his accomplice, confessed, and was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison.
After serving his time, Kujau got out of prison and appeared on talk shows, ran (unsuccessfully) as mayor of Stuttgert, wrote a cookbook and sold copies of his own imitation Picassos and Dalis, until his death in September 2000.
This whole affair was a reminder of Adolf Hitler’s continuing hold on the entire world’s imagination. There were hundreds of abusive letters and phone calls. Circulation of ‘Stern’ magazine slumped and most of the participants in the story left the magazine.
The American ‘Newsweek’, which had ran the Hitler Diaries on its front cover for three successive weeks, was widely criticized for its behaviour.