The Hitler Diaries Hoax: How Germans Faked Something Everyone Would Read

By | May 7, 2020

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(Der Spiegel)

On April 25, 1983, Stern magazine, Germany’s version of Life, announced to the world that they'd come into possession of Adolf Hitler's diaries. It was an astonishing find: Until that moment, no one knew that Hitler even kept diaries. According to Stern, the diaries were lost in a plane crash in 1945, but they'd finally been recovered for the world to see. The so-called diaries related some of the most salacious details about Hitler that had ever been heard, from accounts of Eva Braun's pregnancy to his jealousy of Stalin. There was only one problem: There were no lost Hitler diaries. They were forgeries. It took weeks for the truth to come to light, so for a brief period in the early '80s, historians and World War II buffs believed that they'd hit upon the holy grail.

An Amateur Forger With Big Ideas

Born and raised in East Germany, Konrad Kujau was a lifelong criminal with a history of selling Nazi memorabilia dating back to the 1970s. There have always been buyers for this kind of thing, but Kujau discovered that he could ask for higher prices if he used his forgery skills to make the pieces seem more authentic. Kujau sold helmets and weapons that he claimed were used by Hitler and documents that he claimed were written by Joseph Goebbels, but his techniques were fairly crude. He used modern printing technology to create stationary and attempted to make documents look era-appropriate by dipping them in tea.

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Not His First Rodeo

Kujau had a large enough customer base that he was able to sell a considerable amount of forged artwork to people who wanted original paintings by Hitler. Kujau assumed because he was an amateur painter that his work would pass just as well for Hitler's amateur paintings, and his plan actually worked. He went on to copy the manuscript of Mein Kampf by hand to pass it off as an early version of the text even though the originals were produced by typewriter. After that sold, he produced a false introduction for a third volume of the book, assuming that one would actually show up at some point.