Posted on May 6, 2017
Sixty volumes of writing - dated diary entries - written by one of the most monstrous humans of all time!
Adolph Hitler's diaries were purchased by a German magazine for millions of Deutsche Marks (the equivalent of millions of euros or dollars today), and the serialization rights were sold to several news organizations.
Aaaaannd, on this date in 1983, it was announced that the diaries were NOT written by Hitler, after all. They were fakes.
An East German man named Konrad Kujau, who had a history of petty crime and small-time cons, realized that people's interest in Nazi leaders and Hitler himself could result in some nice earnings for a not-so-honest man. He sold some genuine Nazi memorabilia that he had access to, but he got way more money by faking some details that seemed to indicate that the items had belonged to famous Nazis.
Kujau even began to forge paintings by Hitler.
After practicing for a month or so the old German Gothic lettering that Adolph Hitler used, Kujau began to forge Hitler letters, notes, and poems. Finally, in the mid- to late-1970s, Kujau moved on to diaries.
The first "Hitler" diary that Kujau forged was written in a cheap East German notebook. He used some Gothic press-on letters manufactured in Hong Kong to create gold initials on the cover of the notebook - but, unfortunately, he used the letters FH instead of AH, by mistake! He used a black ribbon from a genuine SS document as one of those ribbon-bookmarks, gluing it onto the notebook using a German army wax seal. And he bought black and blue ink and mixed them, adding a bit of water to create a faded sort of ink for the diaries. To age the book, Kujau used the classic techniques: sprinkling the pages with tea and beating the diary against a hard surface to make it look older and well-worn.
It doesn't sound all that expert, does it? Kujau used some very basic forgery techniques, many of which I used as a kid when I was trying to make cool-looking pirate treasure maps! And the mistake with the gold initial letters is of course very amateurish!!
And yet several historians, handwriting experts, and document authenticators were, at least at first, impressed, and several declared the diary - and the others Kujau later created - to be genuine!
How could that be?
Here are some reasons for the mistaken authentications:
At first, the magazine editors who were ready to purchase the diaries wanted to keep them top secret until they were ready to announce their scoop. So they only gave authenticators a tiny amount of material to study and didn't tell them what the material was claimed to be.
The samples of Hitler's handwriting given to handwriting experts to compare with the diary were - unknown to the magazine editors - ALSO forgeries penned by Kujau. So, when the experts said, "Yep, this was written by the same person who wrote these other items," they were entirely correct. But that person was not Hitler!
The magazine editors were so concerned with obtaining the scoop that they didn't purchase the diaries in an open and above-board way. They had no receipts, and they allowed their representative to deal with Kujau without naming him.
The magazine editors trusted the wrong guy to be their representative; Gerd Heidemann was so obsessed about Nazi and Hitler stuff that he couldn't be reasonable, let alone properly skeptical, about the possibility that the diaries weren't what they were said to be.
Also, Heidemann was pretty darned dishonest. He took advantage of the no-receipts purchases to keep a big cut of his employers' money. Not knowing the Kujau's diaries were frauds, he himself defrauded Kujau (and his employers)!
The first historian to study the diaries was very impressed by the authentications that had already been done (but incorrectly, as explained above). Also, the historian was told some outright lies - that the paper had been analyzed and found to be pre-WWII, that the magazine's sources knew the identity of the person who had saved the documents for decades, and so on. The historian saw some differences between what was written in the diaries and what was already "known" about Hitler, and yet he was so overwhelmed by the supposed expert authentications that he declared the diaries genuine and announced that we would have to rethink some of what we thought about Hitler. The historian was also overwhelmed by the number of diaries - he asked who would bother to fake SIXTY diaries when six or even one would do!
The next historian to inspect the diaries was impressed by the first historian's stamp of approval, and he too was overwhelmed by the sheer number of pages. Who on earth would bother to forge hundreds or thousands of pages, he wondered.
But other historians were skeptical, and the first two historians began to doubt the diaries' authenticity as well. When they brought up their doubts, the publishers and editors who had sunk so much money and time into the project seemed unable to hear the doubts.
Some of the publishers didn't even hear about the growing doubts of experts - it was one of those situations in which everybody thinks someone else is going to give a report - and so nobody does.
There was what is called a "bunker" mentality - when evidence was presented to the magazine editors that the diaries must be fake, the editors tried to explain away the evidence and think of an alternate explanation for the discrepancies. You know, an explanation that would allow them to keep their "scoop."
Finally, a forensic authentication process was done - which should have been the first step, right? - and multiple experts concluded that, not only were the diaries fakes, they weren't even GOOD fakes!
Also on this date:
Martin Z. Mollusk Day
(First Saturday in May)
National Scrapbooking Day
(First Saturday in May)
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