BULL STREET - The art of the Con

Hitler Diaries

On April, 24, 1983, the German magazine Stern sold Newsweek what was purported to be Diaries written by Hitler. There diaries were published by the Sunday times in Britain and Stern in Germany. When the diaries were first published many people could literally not believe that they were real. However, there anxieties were soon put to rest by such eminent educators as Lord Dacre who wrote “The Last Days of Hitler” indicated for a while at least that the diaries were indeed the real thing. They followed history copiously and were extremely interesting because they allowed us to take a peek inside the head of this madman that had lead Germany down a suicidal path for several decades. What was he thinking? Now for the first time we had the opportunity to find out.

However, while the diaries were fun for a time, there soon became little question that this was an elaborate but clumsy fraud. But this was a swindle that would not go away and it was primarily due to the fact that so many prominent people had fallen for this incredible forgery. The folks involved in the swindle gave the diaries ever increasing creditability as the swindle ramped up taking it to an every higher plain. Stern purchased the diaries from Konrad Kujau, a Stuttgart artisan who indicated that he in turn had bought the documents from a East German General that in turn had rescued the documents from a burning German aircraft. It seems  that the aircraft had exploded when it tried to leave Berlin with the diaries aboard just before war’s end. Kujau, saying that he was acting as an agent for the general, sold the diaries to Stern for $2.3 million. In a daisey chain that was soon spiraling out of control, Stern in turn sold the forgery to Newsweek who sold it to the London Times for publication. Each part of this daisy chain was more credible than the one before it and the public was froathing at the mouth to get a look at what they contained. 

Kujau was a Little League forger who had started off life in a German orphanage just outside of Stuttgart. The little tike had embarked on his forging career in order to survive by creating pitiable fake copies of the autographs of the then reigning, East German party leadership.  While this allowed Konrad a few extra marks to throw around, it was not even close to what the lad aspired too. When the opportunity presented itself in 1957, he went through customs at the Iron Curtain by using some home made documents that seemed real to the border-guards and apparently were good enough to for him to gain admittance to the west.

However, the then 19-year old illegal immigrant started in the west at the very bottom. He took on the only job that was available, that of a window washer, but as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he put down his squeegee and opted for his forgery tools. Once enscounsed he began to turn out Nazi paraphernalia on demand. However, before too much more time had elapsed, Kujau had created what he believed would be his first volume of Hitler’s diaries which was labeled “Political and Private Notes from January 1935 until June 1935.” Naturally, the volumes had the standard red wax seal with the official Nazi emblem engraved into it. Moreover, it was tied with a Black ribbon and really looked fairly legitimate. The Nazi’s had a flare for the artistic and chubby little Kujau had apparently caught the moment to letter.

While, there probably was never going to be any additional diaries, Kujau ran across a Stern reporter by the name of Gerd Heidemann. He showed Gerd his elegant forgery and the reporter almost fell through the floor. While Kujau was using postwar ink, paper, glue and even bindings, for some strange reason, Gerd thought that it was the real thing and asked if he could show it to his editors at Stern   Kujau was stunned at his request and quickly agreed. The higher-ups at Stern fell for the forgery hook, line and sinker. The began to pay Kujau by the volume to produce the entire set. 

The books were hardly original, they were a direct copy of “Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations - 1932 - 1945,” compiled by Max Domarus. However, in the din that accompanied the diary’s release, no one every bothered to check this fact and in spite of that, Kujau informed the Stern people that he was in constant touch with the East German Russian General and that the man for some unknown reason would only release one book at a time. Upon the release of the first book, the general wanted Stern to fork over the funds for that one and then and only then would they get the next edition.

However, we are much wiser than Stern and we know that all of the money was going directly into Kujau’s pockets. Moreover, he would soon be back at work burning the midnight candle in order to get the next volume finished before the magazine people got suspicious.  Believe it or not, this process went on until 60-volumes of the diaries had been created and $4.8 million had changed hands. Kujau was fast becoming the richest forgery in the history of the planet and as he often commented, deservedly so.

The material was researched just well enough not to have been exposed as a fraud immediately. Kujau would spend countless hours referencing the material at local libraries and the diaries for the most part were based on the realities of the day. However, on occasion they came up with entirely new twists on previously known material. Tidbits such the fact that when Rudolf Hess dropped into Scotland unannounced in 1941, it was not an act that he thought up, heavens no; it turns out that been completely evolved with Hitler’s consent. More importantly, would you believe that in reality, Hitler never knew anything about the Holocaust in terms of the diaries?. These little gems kept the Stern people literally panting for more.

However, about this time in 1982, Kujau who was now being paid a King’s ransom by Stern determined that he had every right to live it up a tad more because of his dramatically improved financial condition. This included dressing up in a military uniform complete with numerous shinny medals indicating that he held the rank of full General in the German Army. Attired in this Halloween costum, he would frequent numerous nightclubs in the region insisting that employees and patrons alike address him by his military title; “General.”. In addition, he started spending the Stern money like it was going out of style often buying drinks for everyone at the bar endearing him to many of the drunks and ensuring that he would be called general. 

Eventually, the documents were poured over with a fine tooth-comb, but strangley, this happened only after they had gone to print. It was soon discovered that this was a forgery of the most infantile sort and upon hearing those words, Kujau made a mad run for the Austrian border, closely followed by the West German police who looked like the Keystone Kops. The forger was apprehended and received 4.5 years in the German slammer for his efforts. It was determined at the time that one of the reporters writing for Stern was his accomplice, a man named Heidemann who had profited mightily from the relationship. Heidemann, was creditited with having created the entire plot by Kujau in order to save his own skin, but that only flew a short distance. However, Heidemann did receive serious prison time for his efforts.

Kujau served his time and was released in 1988 and soon went back to his established career in forgery. Now, however, he was doing it legitimately by advertising that the copies of Hitler’s own paintings that he was selling were actually “genuine forgeries” that he had painted. While he was at it, Kujau also produced works by Dali, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Rembrandt which he would sign with his own name to insure that he would not have to go back to prison. However, German officers once again became suspicious and raided his hom and found thousands of fraudulent driver’s licenses that he would sign with the hand of the chief bureaucrat in that department. Moreover, he was also arrested for having a fetiche about firing weapons in bars and could not restrain himself and when the police looked further, they found an unregistered arsenal in his home. . He ran for mayor of Lobau and after that for mayor of Stuttgart and in both cases had his head handed to him but he remained popular. Ultimately, Kujau died of cancer in a Stuttgart hospital at 62-years old.

The question now comes into play, should Kujau be treated better by history because of the fact that he was an orphan that had gone through the rigors of war and had suffered greatly or should he be judged by the same standards as his peers? The answer is a definitive yes and an equally definitive no! Kujau broke the law and served 4-years in jail. However, he never returned one nickel of the money he stole from Stern or anyone else for that matter, claiming that not only did he not have a penny of it anymore but he was in debt to the tune of $150,000 to his lawyers. The bottom line is simply that for Kujau’s efforts he spent the four years of jail time being indirectly paid, $1 million per year for getting free room and board.   

 

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