March 4. 2024. 10:46

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The Hitler diaries: Is the story behind the famous fakeries itself a fraud?

Four decades ago Germans learned that Adolf Hitler kept secret diaries that, thanks to the news weekly Stern, they could soon read in weekly instalments.

Rather than rewrite Nazi history, as Stern promised, the instalments were halted after two issues when the diaries were revealed as fakes.

Over two years Konrad Kujau, a professional forger of Hitler memorabilia, had written and sold the diaries for 9.3 million Deutsche marks (nearly €5 million) to a Nazi-obsessed Stern journalist.

After a high-profile press conference, documents that Stern claimed confirmed the diaries’ authenticity were revealed as additional Kujau fakes. When independent tests showed the diaries were written on post-second World War paper, Stern locked up the 60 black volumes in its vault, ostensibly to avoid the “abuse” of the diaries’ content.

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Now German broadcaster NDR has acquired copies of the diaries and, with great fanfare, published them online and made a 28-minute ironic television diary documentary.

According to the 12-member editorial team, the previous version of the story – as a true-life farce – is itself a fake.

After studying the diary entries, assisted by two leading German historians, NDR claims the diaries were not the work of a lone fantasist but dreamt up with the assistance of ageing Nazi friends.

Faking the diaries, Kujau drew mostly on a chronicle of the dictator’s speeches and appearances, published in 1965, supplemented with his own material. Mostly this was about Hitler’s bowels, described in a January 5th, 1944, entry as “a complete ruin”, and bad breath. Missing entirely: any references to concentration camps or the mass murder of European Jews.

We found no proof that some mastermind from the Nazi scene was steering this; it is all a collection of jigsaw pieces

NDR author Julian Feldmann

As his most senior Nazi officials met in January 1942 to plan the Holocaust, parallel diary entries suggest the fake Hitler was anxious to resettle Jews in occupied eastern territories.

“Over and over again a Hitler is presented in these diaries that has nothing to do with annihilation or apparently knows nothing of it, even as the death machinery was working at top speed,” said Anja Reschke, presenter of the NDR show.

Where NDR sees a systematic attempt to play down Hitler’s Holocaust guilt, other German media outlets are scratching their collective heads over supposed revelations known to readers of the 1986 Robert Harris book Selling Hitler.

“Even viewed benevolently, the whole thing is overblown,” noted news outlet RND, suggesting the broadcaster was anxious to give its new television show “a little more drive”.

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Others argued that history was repeating itself: after months researching their Hitler diary story the NDR team, like their Stern colleagues before them, couldn’t afford to find nothing new.

NDR author Julian Feldmann, part of the research team, agrees that, apart from some quotes, documents and details about Konrad Kujau’s contacts to former Nazis, “there is nothing new in terms of content”.

“We found no proof that some mastermind from the Nazi scene was steering this; it is all a collection of jigsaw pieces,” he told .

More important for him is to correct the dominant framing in Germany of the episode as a farce, thanks to a 1992 feature film, Schtonk!

Historian Malte Herwig, also part of the NDR team, says Germans prefer to think of the episode as a “scurrilous joke” rather than reflect on the diaries’ intent, and why the fake Hitler diaries made it on to news stands.

“The diaries demonstrate the dominant atmosphere in the 1980s here,” he said, “and a psychological need to believe that we were innocent of the Holocaust.”