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Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I don't recall seeing him at that Hamburg press conference in April 1983, but if it helps his posthumous reputation I'll let his friends claim the glory for him.

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April 9, 2007 (Easter Monday)
London (England)

IT SEEMS that I have eyes and ears everywhere. A reader tells me that I was given a back-handed compliment by [newspaper executive] Magnus Linklater on BBC Radio Scotland's 'Book Cafe' programme today.

He was being interviewed about a fire that had destroyed many books in his family home's library, and said that he was "deeply embarrassed" to discover that he had a copy of 'Hitler's War'.

Well, that puts him in good company: according to The Washington Post (April 11, 2003), Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's deputy, had a copy in his bedroom when it was overrun by US troops ("His collection includes ... 'Hitler's War,' by David Irving, about the German dictator to whom the Iraqi leader has sometimes been compared.") So did General Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama. Bill Casey, director of the CIA, told me in 1986 that he had read it from cover to cover.. So did Robert Harris, who wrote Fatherland. And so on

Linklater, so my Scots friend tells me, said on the radio today that I was "a very, very good historian", but "a pro-Nazi propagandist"; he then read out my inscription in his book: "For Magnus, an old friend in trials and tribulations".

Of course, he and the interviewer had a good laugh about it - "embarrassing or what?" My reader says I can listen to the programme via the website, using the 'listen again' section of the 'listen via the web' system on the Radio Scotland homepage.


Linklater YES, I think I remember those trials and tribulations. Magnus Linklater (right) bought the fabulous Hitler Diaries for The Sunday Times, having cheated me out of the credit and fee for finding them. I discovered they were fakes and told him by letter dated December 18, 1982. He kept it to himself. The Sunday Times published them in April 1983. Served him right!

In August 1982 Munich document expert Dr August Priesack had first hinted at the existence of these items during a luncheon in London with me. That autumn I passed the tip to The Sunday Times and offered to put them in contact with Priesack and Gerd Heidemann. The man I dealt with at The Sunday Times was the aforementioned Magnus Linklater, their features editor. Linklater and The Sunday Times promised me a ten percent commission upon publication, based on any fee they paid to the owners of the Hitler Diaries in return for identifying these gentlemen.

"Don't worry," said Linklater in his lilting Scottish accent, "we're not going to go behind yer back, David. We'd ne'er do that."

For many weeks I heard no more. That December of 1982 I myself saw the items for the first time in August Priesack's home in Munich, decided within hours that they were fake, and I warned The Sunday Times in a letter dated December 18, 1982. I sent identical warning letters to Heidemann, Priesack, the Stuttgart industrialist Fritz Stiefel, and Billy Price, a Texas collector who I believed might also be taken in. Among other points, I said that "Eva Braun's" handwriting was wrong, that Hitler did not draw the sketches, that the diary extracts were implausible, and that a Hermann Göring letterhead was obviously forged.

More months passed, then Heinz Höhne, an editor at Der Spiegel, telephoned me in April 1983 and asked what he knew about a press conference announced for April 24 by rival news magazine Stern to launch some "diaries" of historic importance.

"Hitler's?" I gasped. "We don't know," said Höhne.

He phoned me a few minutes later to confirm: "Hitler's".

I hooted with laughter. I guffawed even louder when Höhne told me that The Sunday Times was publishing them in London, and they had paid millions too. Magnus Linklater had gone behind my back, contacted the owners, and bought the rights to these dubious documents. ...

At that time I kept not only a diary but also a scrappy telephone log, particularly during interesting episodes. When the Hitler Diaries scandal began, all four telephones in my study began to ring simultaneously -- I did not even have time to note down the times. The resulting April 1983 Telephone Log was among discs that I salvaged in 2001 from already obsolete Xerox discs. This fragment covers the period of the famous "Hitler Diaries scandal."

When Stern introduced the Diaries at their famous press conference on April 25, 1983, I was there, smuggled in by Bild Zeitung, camouflaged as their reporter. Twenty-four years have passed since then, but I remember every second -- Torpedo Runningthe dryness in my mouth as I got up to denounce the Diaries as fakes; my muttered remark to Bild's editor, "Torpedo Running," as we elbowed our way over to the microphone; the ensuing uproar, as cameras were tipped over and floodlights hurled across the room; my five minutes of glory as security guards threw me out of the press conference into the arms of Good Morning America, waiting outside, to broadcast live to the entire United States; the newsreader shouting, "If you've got shares in Stern magazine today, sell!"

In the USA the History Channel made a television documentary on the scandal; there is the usual commercial break half way through. The first part still ends with a lead-in to part 2, "In Part 2 we see how a famous British historian interrupts Stern's press conference to explode the diaries as fakes."

For a year or two when PBS showed that film, Part 2 did include the newsreel footage of my intervention -- my five "killer" questions about the forensic tests on ink, glue, paper; the fact that Hitler's handwriting was mysteriously unaffected by the assassin's bomb on July 20, 1944 although his right arm was so badly hurt that he had to shake Benito Mussolini's hand with his left, and so on. If you see the History Channel movie now, the lead-in is still there but ... the newsreel footage in Part 2 has gone into George Orwell's memory hole. I have vanished from the celluloid.

As for The Sunday Times, of course, it was too good a chance for me to miss. I had fed the names of Priesack and Heidemann to them - I had kept my part of the bargain. That the Diaries had turned out to be fake, that was not my problem: I had subsequently warned them and in good time.

A few days after the famous Stern press conference, I wrote a tongue in cheek letter to Linklater at The Sunday Times "demanding" my ten percent. Since they had paid several million dollars, it was not a small sum. We batted letters back and forth for some weeks, and of course they never paid.

Subsequently a British television company made a very fine six-part comedy film on the diaries, "Selling Hitler", and my modestly heroic part was well portrayed by actor Roger Lloyd Pack.


TODAY the news agencies report the death of the German Hitler-historian Dr Werner Maser, left, also known as "Professor." French newspapers report: Il fut également le premier historien à qualifier d'imposture les soi-disant carnets d'Adolf Hitler publiés en 1983 par le magazine allemand Stern" - "He was also the first historian to dismiss as a forgery the so-called Diaries of Adolf Hitler which the German magazine Stern published in 1983."

I don't recall seeing him at that Hamburg press conference in April 1983, but if it helps his posthumous reputation I'll let his friends claim the glory for him. I'm easygoing about things like that.

  [Previous Radical's Diary]

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Torpedo Running, our history of the Hitler Diaries scandal
David Irving's telephone log, April 1983, on the Diaries scandal
David Irving writes to The Times about Werner Maser's spurious claims
© Focal Point 2007 F DISmall David Irving