Hitler Diaries

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In April 1983, the West German news magazine Stern published excerpts from what purported to be the diaries of Adolf Hitler, known as the Hitler Diaries (German: Hitler-Tagebücher), which were subsequently revealed to be forgeries. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a "special volume" about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945.


"Discovery" of the diaries

Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann claimed to have received the diaries from East Germany, smuggled out by a "Dr. Fischer". The diaries were supposed to be part of a consignment of documents recovered from an aircraft crash in Börnersdorf near Dresden in April 1945.

Stern's parent company, Gruner and Jahr, collected the diaries in great secrecy over the course of more than 18 months. Three separate handwriting analyses were arranged, in Europe and the USA, of one page from one of the diaries; all the tests identified the writing as Hitler's. However, Gruner and Jahr delayed forensic analysis; and fear of leaks meant that no experts in World War II history were allowed more than cursory access to the diaries prior to publication. Two historians who did briefly see them, Hugh Trevor-Roper and Gerhard Weinberg, were retained by Times Newspapers and Newsweek respectively to authenticate the diaries prior to bidding for the serialisation rights.

Trevor-Roper, an independent director of Times Newspapers, flew to Switzerland to see the diaries. Stern showed him not only the diary volumes but a large archive of additional Hitler material, said to have been salvaged from the Börnersdorf crash along with the diaries. Trevor-Roper was convinced of the diaries' authenticity, writing in the next day's The Times that:

I am now satisfied that the documents are authentic; that the history of their wanderings since 1945 is true; and that the standard accounts of Hitler's writing habits, of his personality and, even, perhaps, of some public events, may in consequence have to be revised.

Discovery of the forgery

Doubts quickly emerged. A press conference held to launch publication on 25 April 1983 was a fiasco for Stern. Both Trevor-Roper and Gerhard Weinberg qualified their previous endorsements, and writer David Irving held up photocopies of a fake Hitler diary that he said was from the same source as Stern's material.

Within two weeks the West German Bundesarchiv revealed that the Hitler Diaries were "grotesquely superficial fakes" made on modern paper using modern ink and full of historical inaccuracies. Content had been largely copied from a book of Hitler's speeches, with additional "personal" comments. Much of the "archive" that had impressed Trevor-Roper in Switzerland was also discovered to have been forged.

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