Forger Konrad Kujau fooled historians and the media when he sold more than 60 volumes of fake “Hitler diaries”. Kujau managed to convince a magazine of their authenticity and was paid $4.8 million.
The author behind the Hitler diaries wasn’t Adolf Hitler, it was a man named Konrad Kujau.
The Stuttgart native gained notoriety after he sold handwritten volumes of the so-called diaries to Stern Magazine for a reported $4.8 million, as reported by the New York Times.
The New Yorker labelled the hoax “the biggest scandal to have hit German journalism after 1945”, yet Kujau was such a good forger he duped numerous respected historians and newspapers, including The Sunday Times.
Konrad Kujau was successful forger before the Hitler diaries
Born 27 June 1938 in Löbau, Germany, Kujau purchased Nazi memorabilia and forged authentication details to raise the value of his items. That included letters written in the accurate penmanship of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler, among others.
A skilled artist, he used his artistic talent to forge countless drawings, paintings and sketches in Hitler’s style as well as fake notes and certificates as proof. The Guardian claims this venture could have kept him “financially comfortable for the rest of his life”. But he became greedy.
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He earned millions from the counterfeit diaries
In April 1983, Stern Magazine and The Sunday Times announced breaking news: the discovery of ‘Hitler’s Diaries’. However, less than two weeks after publication it was discovered they were fake.
Kujau began writing the diaries in 1983. He was approached by Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann, who offered DM 2.5 million for the ‘discovery’ of the diaries. Heidemann sold the the volumes to his employer for DM 9.3 million and, although he claimed he was unaware of the scam, the forger claimed he had told Heidemann.
Experts reviewed the diaries by comparing them with other examples of Hitler’s writing. However, the “trustworthy” sources they used had also been forged by Kujau. The hoax was only uncovered after examination of the paper, ink and seals concluded the materials dated from after the Second World War.
Historian and Sunday Times director Hugh Trevor-Roper, who authenticated the diaries, admitted his oversight. He said: “I don’t want to blame anyone. It is my fault. I should have refused to give an opinion so soon. I have been convinced for some time that they are forgeries.”
The paper previously agreed to buy the first excerpt from Stern for £250,000. At the time of publishing, they had already paid half the sum.
Kujau died in 2000, aged 62
Heidemann and Kujau were arrested and sentenced to four and a half years in jail. Kujau was released 18 months early, according to the NY Times. He died 22 years ago.
He was survived by his wife and son at the time of his passing in September 2000 aged 62.