On this day: Hitler Diaries revealed as hoax

May 6 1983: A historic embarrassment

By Jennifer Lipman, May 6, 2011

Undoubtedly one of the most famous swindles in history, the Hitler Diaries were greeted with excitement around the world.

The con began in April, when a reporter for Germany's Stern magazine, Gerd Heidemann, claimed he had his hands on 62 handwritten volumes by the Nazi Fuhrer.

The diaries supposedly covered a 13-year-period, from the beginnings of the Nazi regime until the last days of the Holocaust. They were said to have been found in a hayloft in East Germany after being rescued from a plane wreckage.

Stern began publishing the diaries on April 25. In Britain, the Sunday Times moved to publish them, dispatching historian and Hitler expert Hugh Trevor Roper to authenticate them.

After consideration, he said they were the real thing, prompting the Times to run a world exclusive. But he subsequently said he was not certain, telling a news conference: "I regret that the normal methods of historical verification have been sacrificed to the requirements of the journalistic scoop."

Within days the diaries were revealed as fakes, written on paper not in use until after the war and with modern ink. They had been forged by an art-dealer from Stuttgart called Konrad Kujau who had been paid more than £3 million by Stern. Heidemann and Kujau were later convicted of fraud and jailed.

What the JC said before the hoax was revealed: Most commentators declared that historians and other experts, including psychologists, should, now work on the alleged diaries to establish whether they were authentic…commentators fear that publication of the diaries might serve "white washing" tendencies, not only in Nazi and neo-Nazi circles, but also sections of the German masses, in an attempt to make Hitler look less criminal and less inhumane that historical research has made him.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 8:47am, May 6 2011