Fake Hitler diaries on show to the public at the German National Archives in Koblenz
Forty years ago in April 1983, owners of some of Europe’s and America’s best-known newspapers rushed to buy and then publish the purported diaries of Adolf Hitler. But moments after they were published, all the diaries from 1932-1945 were condemned by German Archives in Koblenz as fake, leaving several top-ranking ‘Hitler-experts’, including Britain’s Hugh Trevor-Roper, high and dry with egg on their faces. Now, those fake diaries will be on permanent display at the German National Archives in Koblenz. They will be handed over by a representative from the Bertelsmann Publishing House which owns them. Bertelsmann said it has commissioned the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History to launch a fresh probe in order to shed light on just how it was possible for the fake diaries to be published in 1983.
By Trevor Grundy
Ten years from now, those of us still around will witness a tsunami of books reminding us that Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany a hundred years ago on January 30, 1933.
On November 8 this year, historians in their well-stocked libraries and Fuhrer-fantasists on the streets and in their beerhalls, will be re-calling with either horror in their hearts (the former) or pride in their blood/ soil / race (the latter) the hundredth anniversary of the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Munich on November 8, 1923, which led to Hitler’s nine months stay at Landsberg Prison, where the future despot dictated volume one of Mein Kampf to Rudolf Hess.
It sold in its millions and fanned the flames of Jew hate in Germany and other parts of Europe, especially in the Baltic States, Hungary, Poland , Romania,Bulgaria and the Ukraine.
Almost eight decades after his suicide in a Berlin bunker, Adolf Hitler won’t go away.
AH: We can’t get rid of him. He’s always popping up. Our heads keep turning his way. Now, more than ever.
Increasingly, many of the conditions that prevailed during the Weimar Republic after the First World War return to haunt those with more than Tiktok sleep plugs between their ears.
So where do we locate the man? Is he still dangerous? In what pantheon does he lie? With whom should he be compared?
The journalist Richard Gott asked those questions over twenty years ago in his review of The Hitler of History: Hitler’s Biographers on Trial by John Lukacs (New Statesman, 19 March 2001).
”It’s a new century but we still can’t get enough of Adolf Hitler,” Gott wrote, while praising Lukacs for attempting to recover the figure of the German leader from what Gott called “the mindless demonisation to which he has been subjected.”
Others have tried but only in a half-hearted nervous sort of way and unless some startling revelations appear, AH will remain in Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell for a long time yet.
So, now is as good a time as any to remember the first time since World War Two there was an attempt to de-demonise the German dictator.
It’s Springtime for Hitler in Germany in 1983.
The story started two years before.
Gerd Heidemann (pictured) at the Press conference in April 1983 that let the world know he had so amazingly and secretly got his hands on the purported Adolf Hitler diaries.
In January 1981, Stern’s top roving reporter Gerd Heidemann (known as der Spurhund or the bloodhound by his colleagues) headed to Stuttgart where he met up with a small-time shopkeeper and collector of Nazi memorabilia who called himself Dr Konrad Fischer.
Fischer told the reporter that he had something to sell that could interest the owners of Stern magazine and perhaps change the way the world saw Adolf Hitler.
After a couple of strong drinks, the man called “the source” told the journalist that diaries written by Hitler from 1932 to 1945 were in the possession of his brother, a general in the East German Army.
The volumes, he said, had come into his possession after they were rescued by villagers following the wreckage of a transport plane carrying senior Nazi leaders and precious secret documents that Hitler wanted preserved away from Berlin towards Hitler’s mountain-top retreat at Berchesgaden.
The plane crashed south of Dresden in the Heidenholz Forest in April 1945 just a few days before Hitler’s suicide in Berlin on April 30, 1945.
According to Fischer, the diaries had been smuggled into West Germany inside pianos.
Heidemann had top Nazi friends and had been the long-term lover of Edda Goring, Hermann Goring’s daughter. He’d actually bought the Nazi leader’s yacht Carin 11 where he entertained men and women who still believed in the ‘magic’ of Hitler and the cause of National Socialism.
After much thought, Heidemann drove with a fellow reporter Thomas Walde to the site of the 1945 crash and there not only discovered the graves of the aircraft’s crew but also villagers holding up metal parts of the crashed plane.
Convinced of the veracity of his source’s story, Heidemann believed he was onto the scoop of the century. And that he’d become a multi- millionaire in the process.
After lengthy deliberations with Stern’s executives (some believed in Heidemann’s story, others dismissed the whole thing as fantasy and farce) Stern paid out nine million DMs to buy the diaries which none of them had even seen. Such was their faith in Heidemann’s judgment.
They didn’t even know their own reporter’s source because Heidemann wouldn’t tell them because it is not what journalists do – reveal their sources.
In the German film Faking Hitler a fictional character called Professor Sebastian Moser talks to Gerd Heidemann about the contents of the diaries and refers to what Hitler is supposed to have said which was -“We absolutely must find a place in the East where the Jews can support themselves” Professor Moser stares at Heidemann and says – “He supposedly wrote that during the Wannasee Conference (January 20, 1942) when the decision was taken to deport Jews to the East in order to exterminate them.” Heidemann replies -“That is what is so sensational.” Moser says- “Some would call it historical revisionism.” Heidemann responds – “Just because the diaries contain something different from what we might have wished for doesn’t automatically make them a lie. The truth is sometimes uncomfortable. What you personally think of the contents is irrelevant.”
It was bluff with added bluff.
At that time, the Stern reporter did not know that his contact’s real name was Konrad Kujau, a small time shopkeeper, part time painter and full time conman.
On April 22, 1983 one of Stern magazine’s top executives stood up at a Press conference in Hamburg and waved a piece of paper in the air, a bit like Neville Chamberlain waving the Peace in Our Time document after his talks in Munich with Hitler and Benito Mussolini in 1938.
He told startled journalists that the magazine’s star reporter had sensationally got hold of many of the diaries written by the man the world most loved to hate – Adolf Hitler.
It would be the biggest publishing event in the twentieth century and encourage us all to see AH through a different lens, not just as the Holocaust’s master planner.
Was it possible?
Hitler didn’t know much about what was going on and the terrible campaign against Jews, gypsies and men and women of homosexual tendencies?
Did Adolf Hitler have a gentle, almost ‘feminine’ side to his character?
Had he really approved of Rudolph Hess’s flight to Scotland in 1941 to try and stop the war with Britain?
He didn’t know his followers launched a crusade against local Jews during Kristallnacht in 1938?
Read the diaries and find out, was Stern’s answer to these stunning revelations.
It would have been hard to find a man, woman or child who didn’t want to know.
But just how Heidemann got his hands on the diaries would remain a Stern secret, along with the name of the reporter’s sources.
Shaking heads in disbelief historians, journalists and a few politicians departed, waiting for part two which would be the publication of the diaries in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times on April 24, then another press conference on the 25th followed by Stern’s publications of the diaries three days later on the 28th.
Stern’s managers paid out over nine million DM for the thirty – five diaries which were being held in a Swiss Bank.
Who got what from that colossal sum of money remains a mystery to this day.
To regain some of the money, Stern sold publishing rights to some of the biggest and richest media houses in Europe including Paris Match, Italy’s Panorama and America’s Time and Newsweek and, of course, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, owners of The Times and The Sunday Times.
It would make Stern and those who believe the diaries were kosher (if that’s the right word) mind-blowingly rich and famous.
Who could ask for anything more?
The Truth about Heidemann’s source, maybe?
But few of the main players with their eyes on cash registers and bank balances worried much about that.
Who needs Truth when there are millions of DMs and £ and $s out there ready to be back-trousered?
In 1957, Rosa Panvini (right) and her daughter Amalia offered to sell the diaries of dictator Benito Mussolini to Life magazine and the Milan daily Corriere della Sera. The two women claimed the diaries had been given to their late father after the war for safekeeping, by a friend of a friend of Mussolini. Before the sale could be completed, Italian police arrested the Panvinis and charged them with forgery and fraud. In 1968, more of the same forged volumes resurfaced, at which time the London Sunday Times paid close to $300,000 for them, before realizing they were fake.
Only a few old hands remembered that in 1968 their paper had been taken for a £60,000 ride by an Italian woman Amalia Panvini and her daughter Rosa who claimed to have – by sheer chance -come across the private diaries of the Italian Duce, Benito Mussolini.
Not to worry.
Hadn’t one of the world’s top authorities on the life and death of AH, Professor Hugh-Trevor Roper (author of the 1947 best-selling book The Last Days of Hitler) staked his reputation they were genuine? Trevor-Roper worked for M16 in Germany after the war. Later on he was given a peerage and was also known as Lord Dacre the brilliant, still you, historian at Cambridge University.
Volker Ullrich’s book Eight Days in May (Penguin Books, 2021) continues the detective work about what happened to Hitler’s documents around the time of his suicide on April 30, 1945. In it, he tells how Julius Shaub, Hitler’s long-time adjutant, was ordered to destroy all the Fuhrer’s private papers in the bunker. On the night of April 25, 1945 Shaub flew to Munich where he emptied Hitler’s apartment of all private documents. He then flew to Obersalzberg and did the same.Writing about the last days of Hitler, Ian Kershaw in Volume Two of his book Hitler (Penguin, Books 2000) on page 805 writes that Hitler had ordered Schaub to burn all the papers and documents in his private safe in the bunker. “He was afterwards instructed to do the same in Munich and at the the Berghof. After a perfunctory farewell from the master he had served for twenty years, he (Schaub) left Berlin and flew south.” It’s now too late to ask Hugh Trevor- Roper if he knew anything about any of that.
It was then that historians not working for Murdoch and journalists not employed by Stern stepped up to the plate.
Letters on the cover of the diaries were in Gothic. But someone had muddled up the letter A and F (which looked similar) so covers of the leather bound books indicated they had been penned by someone with the initials FH, not AH.
Can you image Hitler letting that get passed him?
Those who had known Hitler well said he rarely wrote things down. He dictated speeches and articles.
And after the attempt to kill him in July 1944, Hitler had difficulty moving his right hand, yet alone writing with it.
Handwriting experts were called in and most said the writing was a good imitation but that it was not Hitler’s. And the ink was made well after 1945.
Alarmed, Stern’s reporters in Hamburg grilled their bosses about the sources of all these diaries.
“First we publish, then we authenticate,” Time magazine’s Ed Magnuson quoted one reporter saying angrily to a Stern executive.
The magazine’s editorial board relented a bit and ordered some of the diaries to be sent to experts at West Germanys Federal Archives in Coblenz.
Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, (above) in his seventieth year, accepted the authenticity of the forged Hitler diaries. It was a humiliating episode for the man who, while working for M16 after the war in Germany, gathered the material which went into his best- selling 1947 book The Last Days of Hitler. He was never allowed to forget his blunder and his biographer wrote that since he was so often publicly critical of errors by others, he could hardly complain when his own were assailed. The historian told the BBC’s Sue Lawley, presenter on the popular Desert Island Discs radio programme, that he had made a mistake but that he had also taken the blame for other people. He said: “I was made a scapegoat. I felt, by people who themselves bore the initial responsibility for misleading me.”
West Germany’s Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann announced in a terse statement that the Federal Archives were convinced that the documents they’d been asked to examine had not been written by Hitler. All of them were fakes, produced in the post-war period.
At a Press conference, a forensics expert Luis-Ferdinand Werner said he supervised a chemical analysis of the paper, cover, binding, labels and glue used in three of the seven volumes submitted by Stern and they were all “obvious fakes.”
American reporters said once competent experts had a chance to examine the diaries it became obvious that they were all the work of a master forger.
The damage done by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who authenticated the Hitler Diaries and then described them as fakes, is hard to gauge. If you can’t trust historians praised to the sky by fellow academics, who then can you trust? One of the most disturbing “diaries” written after the Second World War was the work of German journalist Marta Hillers (who wrote under the oen name of Anonyma). A Woman in Berlin tells the story of the mass rape of an estimated two million German women by Red Army soldiers in May 1945. The exact number will never be known. In volume two of his massive study Hitler (Penguin Books,2000) the highly respected historian Ian Kershaw writes on page 763- ‘One careful estimate suggests that as many as 1.4 million women were raped in the eastern territories – some 18 percent of the female population of those regions. In East Prussia , the percentage may well have been much higher.” Many young European historians say that Hillers’s book is one of the most important personal accounts written about the effects of war and defeat on a civilian population. Yet, when Antony Beevor read the book, he said it was inevitable doubts would be raised about the veracity of her stories. In the Introduction to the Virago Press edition on the book published in 2005, he wrote – “It is perhaps inevitable that doubts would be raised about the book especially after the scandal of the fake Hitler Diaries.”
German scientists disclosed that chemical analysis of the binding showed that they contained polyester threads which were not produced until after 1945, that the glue used on the book labels contained post-war chemicals. And there were factual errors about dates and places and the contents of speeches by Hitler and other people.
But none of that stopped Rupert Murdoch, the man commonly known as “the Dirty Digger” from ordering the editor of The Sunday Times, Frank Giles, to go ahead and publish.
Moments before publication, Hugh Trevor Roper telephoned Frank Giles (later dismissed as editor and booted upstairs by Murdoch) and told him he had serious second thoughts about the authenticity of the diaries and that the paper’s lead story needed to be changed – immediately!
Giles’s world collapsed. He telephoned Murdoch in New York for advice about what to do next.
The voice at the other end of the line was short and sharp and Aussie –
“Fuck Dacre! Publish!”
Publish they did. Fucked they were.
Gard Heidemann and Konrad Kujau were imprisoned for four and a half years apiece for defrauding Stern
Hugh Trevor- Roper whose reputation was shattered, lived on with a new name dangling over his lordly head, after a re-Christening by the satirical magazine Private Eye – Hugh Very-Ropey.
Stern magazine will never recover from the fake diaries farce.
But not everyone ended up with red faces or in a German slammer.
Films have been made, the best to my mind is Faking Hitler, a German production.
Several books have been written, including Robert Harris’s Selling Hitler: The story of the Hitler Diaries (a TV documentary based on his book followed).
For real Hitler fans and fantasists there’s The Hitler Diaries by Jim Williams which he wrote nine months before the scandal broke in 1983 and one written with the same name in the same year by Richard Hugo.
This article first appeared in the April 2023 edition of the Canadian online magazine, Cold Type
On April 26, 2023 the BBC Radio 4 presenter, Marta Kearney (MK) spoke to the author of ‘Selling Hitler’ about the fake diaries. She asked Robert Harris (RH) if they were the most incredible hoax. He said:”Oh, it’s a great story! I think in’s the greatest story I ever came across as a journalist – that these distinguished people like professor Hugh Trevor-Roper (who was a great one for pointing out everyone else’s mistakes) . . . Rupert Murdoch . . . they all rushed in and bought the sixty volumes of diaries which turned out to be the most ludicrous forgery. Almost for the first moment they surfaced forty years ago, I remember listening on the road to the fact that they had been discovered and I thought ‘It’s too good to be true.’ ”
MK:” Too good to be a discovery?”
RH: “Yes. This is where I think that Hugh Trevor-Roper was so stupid. I thought whey should someone forge sixty, where one or two would do? Well, of course, if you’re getting 200,000 DMs per volume then there’s quite an incentive to forge sixty. And each page was signed by Adolf Hitler. So, it’s a great tale. It’s a cautionary tale. The Sunday Times put on 60,000 readers and kept 20,000 of them and Murdoch afterwards said , ‘ You know it’s all showbusiness and we made money out if it.’ ”
RH said there was no way anyone could think that the diaries were genuine. “No-one could believe that they are genuine,” he said.
Later, MK raised the subject of Artificial Intelligence (AI). RH admitted it was potentially dangerous.
He said – “If you’re got sophisticated forgery, if it wasn’t just done by this petty con-man but done seriously by a group of neo-Nazis who wished to rehabilitate Hitler and use the technique of AI and all the other things that are available now, then it would be very serious. It was fortune for us that it was just so obvious.”
The fake diaries gave readers an impression that there was a soft, almost feminine, side to Hitler.
RH said that one reason why the diaries became so notorious was Stern kept them well away from the public (or the academic) gaze.
Immediately after Stern published them, the bubble burst ad they were shown to have been forgeries.
RH said that there were lesson to be learnt by journalists and that the fake diaries story revealed what he called “different aspects of group think.”
RH: “Men, and it is usually men, all huddle together convincing themselves that something is true, getting caught up in the kind of romance of secret diaries smuggled out of East Germany and hugging it to themselves. And in the end , everyone is bound. They’re working for the forger because they’ve got as much at stake now for this to be true as he has. There are things that I think journalists have to watch out for.”