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The Times

London, September 14, 2000



Konrad Kujau, forger, was born in Löbau, Saxony, on June 27, 1938. He died of cancer in Stuttgart on September 12 aged 62.

On a wall in Konrad Kujau's house there used to hang a handwritten letter from Adolf Hitler. It was addressed to the young Kujau and gave him authority to "compile" the Führer's diary after his death, for posterity. The letter was, of course, a fake, a comical text created by Kujau, the man responsible for one of the 20th century's most infamous forgeries, the "Hitler Diaries".

Originally bought by the German current affairs magazine Stern but sold to Newsweek in America and published by The Sunday Times in Britain, the fabricated diaries fooled the world at first viewing in April 1983. Even Lord Dacre, the eminent historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, author of a classic account of The Last Days of Hitler, was famously, if temporarily, hoodwinked.

The diaries' publication prompted some commentators to proclaim that the entire history of the Third Reich would have to be rewritten. It seemed, for instance, that Hitler had known of and approved the "peace flight" to Scotland by his deputy Rudolf Hess in 1941; only afterwards had he declared Hess insane. More shocking still, there was no hint that Hitler had known anything of the Final Solution; instead there was merely a suggestion that he wished the Jews might be resettled in the East. Sceptical voices were quickly heard, with a number of historians expressing deep reservations.

A day before The Sunday Times was due to publish the first instalment, on April 24, 1983, Dacre, too, expressed serious doubts about the forgeries that he had originally declared authentic. Such had been Stern's obsession with secrecy that he had been allowed far less time to examine the diaries than he would have liked. He went so far as to telephone The Times on the Saturday, the day the newspaper broke the story of its sister paper's scoop, to tell the Editor, Charles Douglas-Home, of his concerns. His message did not get through to The Sunday Times.

Rudimentary scientific tests, initiated by The Sunday Times as soon as Stern agreed to release the diaries for independent analysis, quickly exposed "the scoop of the century" as the oops of the century, and the West German Federal Archives declared the diaries to be "grotesque and superficial forgeries". Yet between 1980 and 1983 the publishers of Stern had paid £2.3 million to Konrad Kujau, who, they believed, was receiving the volumes from a shadowy East German general.

The Führer's journal, the story went, had been rescued from a burning German aircraft that had crashed while escaping Berlin in 1945. The cargo had lain undisturbed ever since in the village of Börnersdorf, near Dresden. In fact, Kujau was churning out the diaries himself, in the back room of his Stuttgart shop.

Brought up in an orphanage, Konrad Kujau had been a forger from youth; as a child he sold fake autographs of East German politicians for pocket money. He was studying art in Dresden when he fled to the West in 1957, where he worked as a window- cleaner. In 1967 he opened a shop in Stuttgart, selling - and manufacturing - Nazi paraphernalia and mementoes. His creations included an introduction to a sequel to Mein Kampf, poems by Adolf Hitler and the beginnings of an opera by the Führer entitled Wieland der Schmied ("Wieland the Blacksmith").

But Kujau might have remained a small-time crook had he not come into contact with Gerd Heidemann. A Stern reporter whose career had reached something of an impasse, Heidemann had developed an unhealthy interest in the personalities of the Third Reich and an expensive appetite for the artefacts associated with them, extending even to the purchase of Hermann Goering's yacht.

He was immediately fascinated by the "Hitler Diaries". Kujau's first production was no more than a single volume labelled Political and Private Notes from January 1935 until June 1935. Adolf Hitler. It was decorated with a red wax seal, a black ribbon and the brass Gothic initials "F H" (Kujau having apparently mistaken the Gothic capital F for an A when he bought the type in Hong Kong).

Believing - or wanting to believe - this extraordinary volume authentic, Heidemann went to Stern with his "revelation". His star began to rise at once. Amid great secrecy, the magazine's publishers agreed to give him the funds to pay Kujau for more diaries, to be secured, at some risk, via his high-ranking contact in the East German military.

Kujau set to work. For three years, he wrote Hitler's daily thoughts in Gothic script into a black A4 notebook. On to each page he would pour tea, to give it an aged appearance. He would then slap the pages together and batter them against the table to wear and age the volumes. Finally he affixed two red wax seals in the form of a German eagle on the covers.

The diaries purported to run from June 1932 to April 1945. In composing the content, Kujau worked from a library of reference books, newspapers and medical records. The result was not immediately impressive, though it was only after the hoax was revealed that the banality of the entries seemed so strikingly clear.

"Meet all the leaders of the Storm Troopers in Bavaria, give them medals. They pledge lifelong loyalty to the Führer, with tears in eyes. What a splendid body of men!"; "Must not forget tickets for the Olympic Games for Eva"; "On my feet all day long"; and "Because of the new pills I have violent flatulence, and - says Eva - bad breath." Stern paid around £50 per word.

By the time the payments began in 1980, Kujau's neighbours had noticed a change in his behaviour. Previously, his girlfriend had had to explain to them why Kujau was spending so much time alone. He was doing a project for Stern, she said. Now, however, he made frequent, ostentatious visits to local nightclubs, often spending more than £2,500 per evening. He would sometimes arrive in uniform and insist on being addressed as "General Kujau".

When the forgery was exposed, there were suggestions that the diaries might be a dastardly East German plot. Meanwhile, Kujau had gone on the run, but he was apprehended by the West German police at the Austrian border on May 14, 1983. By the end of the month he had confessed to producing the 60 volumes and selling them to Heidemann.

After an 11-month trial, he was given a 4 -year prison sentence for forgery. Heidemann, whose own financial circumstances had markedly improved as the diary volumes flowed in and his employers' money flowed out, was also implicated and sent to jail. He protested his innocence, and insisted that he had been duped by Kujau.

Kujau (who also went under the alias of Konrad Fischer), was released from prison in 1988 when it was found he was suffering from cancer. Despite the fact that Stern's money had never been recovered, he now told the world he was in debt to the tune of £160,000 - money he owed to lawyers, court and tax officials.

He also proclaimed his own innocence. He had told Heidemann all along that the diaries were fakes, he said, and in turn Heidemann had told him that he was merely passing them on to a former aide of Hitler's now hiding in South America. Kujau claimed to have been shocked when he saw his work in the press.

Kujau was a balding, portly, jocular man, who seemed to revel in the publicity he received during the court case. In the free world he continued to work as a forger - albeit a slightly more honest one. He opened a gallery in Stuttgart where he sold "genuine" forgeries of Hitler's paintings, and turned his hand to producing Dalis, Monets, Rembrandts and Van Goghs, signing them with his own and the original artist's name. So successful were his efforts, which could fetch up to £42,000, that by the 1990s a counterfeit submarket had appeared in fakes of Kujau's fakes.

In 1994 Kujau stood without success for mayor of his home town of Löbau. Two years later he ran for mayor of Stuttgart, securing 901 votes.

When he was released from prison, Kujau had declared his intention to pen his memoirs. Entitled I Was Hitler, it would, he said, "be the kind of book to read at night when there's nothing on television". In 1998 a book was published, but it was not his. He denounced Die Originalität der Fälschung ("The Originality of Forgery"), which had appeared under his name. "I did not write one line of this book," he protested.

His last exhibition, in Majorca, was a mix of originals and works inspired by Monet and Klimt. Earlier this year he was fined DM9,000 for copyright infringment in his latest "new interpretations" of past masters. He was subsequently given an 18-month probationary sentence for firing a gun in a Stuttgart bar.

In 1991 Thames Television broadcast the mini-series Selling Hitler. The comedy-drama was based on a book by Robert Harris and featured Jonathan Pryce as Gerd Heidemann, Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch and Alexei Sayle as Kujau.

Related items on this website:

How the scholar, Professor Eberhard Jäckel, tried to conceal that he had fallen for Kujau and published his Hitler poems as the real thing
David Irving: "Torpedo Running"
Trial of Konrad Kujau and Gerd Heidemann for forgery
Moderner "Till Eulenspiegel" Konrad Kujau erlag einem Magenkrebsleiden
 Death of Hitler Diaries forger Kujau. Mr Irving's role in exposing the fraud
  Wiener Kurier: Hitler-Tagebuch-Fälscher gestorben
  The Times obituary of Konrad Kujau, forger of Hitler Diaries

  The Times September 26, 2000


Hitler 'diaries' forger

From Mr Frank Giles

Sir, -- Returning from several weeks abroad, I have only just caught up with your obituary (September 14) of Konrad Kujau, the forger of the Hitler diaries.

In it, the obituarist writes that the diaries were "published by The Sunday Times". This is not true. What the paper did do, in the belief that the diaries were genuine, was to devote several pages of its issue of April 24, 1983, to the story of the "discovery" of the diaries, together with a foretaste of what they contained.

Lord Dacre of Glanton, as the obituary correctly states, had throughout that Saturday been expressing his growing doubts to the Editor and Deputy Editor of The Times, for which the diaries were originally intended. But it was the evening, and the first edition of The Sunday Times was already off the press, before I was able to reach Lord Dacre.

In the following days the diaries were proved to be fakes, the promised serialisation abandoned, and an apology offered to the paper's readers.

I am, Sir, yours truly,
(Editor, The Sunday Times, 1981-83),
42 Blomfield Road,

London W9 2PF. September 25.


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