“They’re forgeries, pure and simple”
In 1976 Gerd Heidemann was a reporter for the German magazine Stern and he was also in debt. He had just split from his third wife and had spent a fortune on a yacht that once belonged to Hermann Goering. His boss at Stern gave him permission to write a story about the vessel and Heidemann began research. He contacted Goering’s daughter, Edda, and they began an affair. She introduced him to surviving Nazis and one gave him a book that told the story of Hitler’s last days including a tale of how Hitler’s archive had been destroyed. But what, wondered Heidemann, constituted the führer’s archive?
In December 1980 he got his answer when he was told that a Stuttgart engineer held a volume of Hitler’s personal diary. The engineer, who collected Nazi memorabilia, had got the 100-page volume from Konrad Kujau, an antiques dealer and painter. Kujau had more diaries. Edda Goering and the other high-ranking Nazis immediately discounted the authenticity of the diaries but Heidemann was undeterred. Gruner + Jahr, the owners of Stern, authorized him to offer five million deutschmarks for the 26 volumes of Hitler’s diary. On 28 January 1981 Heidemann made a down payment for the diaries to Kujau with a suitcase full of cash. Three weeks later, on 17 February, Kujau delivered the first three volumes with the rest arriving piecemeal. The publishing executives were ecstatic and dreamed of the riches they would make from worldwide book deals.
On 1 June 1981 Heidemann reported that the price for each volume had increased by 25 per cent. On 22 August the 18th volume was delivered and the price doubled. In March 1982 Gruner + Jahr finally sent a page from the diary to be checked by experts. The first expert reported the diaries were genuine and a second and third expert concurred. By March 1983 the 58th volume had arrived and the bill was astronomical. Meanwhile, Heidemann was living a life of luxury but no one seemed to notice. Gruner + Jahr’s agents offeried serialization deals and the bidding was fierce, but West German police had been asked to test the age of the paper and on 28 March reported that it was post-war. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper authenticated the diaries for Rupert Murdoch and The Sunday Times published six pages of them on 24 April 1983.
Stuttgart, West Germany
Wednesday 28 January 1981
Historians around the world dismissed the diaries as fakes. David Irving said, “They’re forgeries, pure and simple.” Stern executives offered the entire 60 volumes for analysis and on 1 May 1983 were shocked to be told that they were all fake. The paper contained chemicals that were unavailable before 1955. On 13 May 1983 Kujau was arrested. When told that Gruner + Jahr had paid 23 million deutschmarks for the diaries he revealed that he had only received five; Heidemann had siphoned off the other 18 million. Both men were sentenced for four and a half years in prison. Heidemann, now 76, is living alone in a cramped Hamburg apartment on £280 a month with £560,000 of debts. Kujau, who was born on 27 June 1938 died on 12 September 2000.