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Hitler Diaries Debacle Begins (February 18, 1981)

Today in Odd History, one of the greatest publishing scandals of the 20th Century began, when Gerd HeidemannGerd Heidemann presented the directors of Gruner + Jahr, the publishers of the German magazine Stern, with the handwritten diaries of Adolph Hitler. Although handwriting analysis suggested that the diaries were authentic, scientific investigation of the paper and ink revealed that they were, in fact, no more than a few years old.

Heidemann was a reporter employed by Stern, who had been recruited by the Stasi, the East German secret police, in 1953 and who was still active with the Stasi in the early 1980s, although he later claimed to have been a double agent. He told his employer that he had received Hitler's diaries from an anonymous source. The company agreed to pay $2 million for the books, which were soon revealed to be forgeries, created by Konrad Kujau.

Konrad KujauAfter paying Heidemann in cash, Gruner + Jahr hired experts in handwriting analysis to authenticate the diaries. However, Gruner + Jahr's experts were working from handwriting samples that were themselves forgeries. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that the diaries were authentic.

When Rupert Murdoch acquired the rights to Hitler's Secret Diaries in 1983, he asked Hugh Trevor-Roper, a leading Hitler scholar, to examine the diaries. Trevor-Roper had misgivings about their authenticity, but nevertheless published a report in Murdoch's newspapers which declared them to be the work of Hitler himself.

Handwriting analysis is a very old technique, but still scientifically unproven. The West German police, therefore, relied on other techniques in their investigation. They called in scientists who discovered that the paper in the diaries, the seals on them and the ink in which they were written were all of post-WWII manufacture.

Heidemann and his accomplice, Konrad Kujau, each spent four years in prison.

Image Credits:
Picture of Gerd Heidemann taken from The Museum of Hoaxes
Picture of Konrad Kujau taken from The Times, by Neil Mishalov

The History Channel

Hitler diaries agent was 'communist spy', BBC News, July 29, 2002
Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law. David L. Faigman, 1999.


More about the Hitler Diaries:

Hitler's Secret DiariesHitler's Secret Diaries

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