Great Literary Bleemersnarks: The Hitler Diaries

"Hitler's Diaries Discovered" (Stern)

The recipe is simple but the preparation may take some time. Start with your favorite slices of fraud, hoax, scam or forgery. Mix well with several cups of greed. Garnish it with the essence of a failed self-lobotomy. Simmer until done. Serve while hot. That’s a literary bleemersnark.

Today’s favorite recipe: The Hitler Diaries

When and Where: 1983, in West Germany. At the time, Germany was still a divided nation.

The Bleemersnarkee: Stern, a widely-read and once adored weekly news magazine. Founded in 1948, it reached a circulation of more than 8 million readers in Germany and across Europe. With Stern’s publication of the Hitler Diaries, it is generally agreed that an all-time low in German journalism was achieved. This moment became Stern’s undying literary legacy. Of course, Stern was not the only bleemersnarkee in this nifty twist. The victims were many and renowned, not to mention every one of Stern’s readers.

The Bleemersnarker: The mysterious “Dr. Fischer,” who claimed to have smuggled the Hitler Diaries out of East Germany and directly into the waiting hands of journalist Gerd Heidemann. There were more. Wait for The Reveal.

The Plot: Stern announced the too-good-to-be-true find in April 1983. The diaries were allegedly discovered among other important papers recovered from an airplane crash in Dresden, in April 1945. For well over a year preceding the announcement, negotiations with “Dr. Fisher” and others supposedly went on behind the scenes. After finally collecting the documents, three separate handwriting examinations were made of one page of the diary. Each expert claimed that the handwriting was, indeed, that of Adolph Hitler. At the time, no forensic tests were made. Two noted WWII historians were brought in to further verify the material. Both agreed that the diaries were genuine.

Since the diaries consisted of some 60 volumes, it was hard to believe that they were all forgeries. However, as soon as Stern made their infamous announcement, skeptics and doubters crawled out of the woodwork. On April 25, 1983, Stern held a news conference to reveal the publication schedule of the diaries. Suddenly, the whole cake began to fall. The two historians backed away from their previously enthusiastic support of the material. Author David Irving produced photocopies of another fake Hitler diary that he claimed was from the same collection as the Stern cache. This debacle forced a more thorough, legitimate forensic examination of the diaries.

You guessed it. They were forgeries, all of them. Forensic experts agreed that they were fakes, and not especially good ones at that. Woops.

The Fallout: The two Stern editors involved in this bleemersnark got the ax, allegedly self-imposed. So did an editor at the Sunday Times, scheduled to also run the Hitler Diary series. And, William Boyles from Newsweek, an American bleemersnarkee. Lesser heads rolled freely. The two noted historians lost their bite among all other historians, and the public. Oh, and let’s not forget the lovable Rupert Murdoch, who was up to his eyeballs in this bleemersnark.

The Reveal: The diaries had been carefully prepared by forger Konrad Kujau, well known in the Stuttgart environs for his previous artistic endeavors. And the money (9 million marks)? Well, no one knows for sure. However, journalist Heidemann began to live high on the hog rather suddenly. Kujau was fed well. Both men were sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison, which was just long enough for their money to collect a healthy dose of interest. When Kujau hit the streets again, he opened his own business specializing in “original Kujau forgeries.”

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8 thoughts on “Great Literary Bleemersnarks: The Hitler Diaries

  1. This was interesting! Growing up in Germany teachers of the first generation after WW2, I only learned about German history until 1945. We dealt with it in history, in German, in Religious education – through books, films, essays etc. I think it’s good that we were well-informed but unfortunately noone talked about history after the war. When the diaries were “discovered” I was only 6 and hence too young to inform myself. So thanks for summarising what happened, I really did not know anything about the details!

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