September 14, 2000

 

Small-time pedlar of Nazi paraphernalia who achieved worldwide notoriety as the author of the faked Hitler Diaries

 

 

Konrad Kujau, left, presents the faked Hitler Diaries in a civil court house in Hamburg on August 29, 1984

 

KONRAD KUJAU

 

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.

Alexei Sayle as Kujau in the television adaptation of the story in 1991 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 4.5 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.

 


 

Konrad Kujau, 62, 'Hitler Diaries' Swindler, Dies

 

By Eric Page,, September 14, 2000

 

Konrad Kujau, a raffish German swindler who sold 60 volumes of forged "Hitler diaries" to a German magazine for $4.8 million, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Stuttgart, Germany. He was 62.

The cause was stomach cancer, a family member said.

Mr. Kujau's bogus handiwork, described as private journals written by the Fuhrer, was published by Stern, the weekly, in 1983. The first excerpts appeared in Stern and in a British newspaper, The Sunday Times, which bought them from Stern. Hugh Trevor-Roper, the British historian, had read the material before The Times began to publish it, in English.

But their authenticity was quickly challenged. On the day after The Times printed the first excerpt, Mr. Trevor-Roper acknowledged that he had "misunderstood the nature of their procurement." He said he had come to have doubts that they were authentic.

Before long, the diaries were definitively found to be fakes. Authorities on Hitler-era documents who were on the staff of the federal German archives declared that the "diaries" were made with postwar ink, paper, glue and even binding.

In May 1983, the West German government declared that chemical testing had shown that without doubt the "diaries" were fake. The director of the archives, Hans Booms, said much of the content had seemingly been lifted from a book, "Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations - 1932- 1945," that Max Domarus compiled and published privately in the early 60's. Mr. Booms said mistakes in the book also appeared in the "diaries," which he called a "grotesque, superficial forgery." He insinuated that they had originated with Nazi sympathizers or Nazis.

Also in May 1983, a West German journalist who had brought the "diaries" to light reported that he had obtained them from a dealer of Nazi memorabilia in Stuttgart. The dealer was said to have done the forging and he was said to have called himself Konrad Kujau. By then, he had disappeared from Stuttgart. Mr. Kujau was later arrested.

People who had dealings with the journalist said the dealer, using the name Konrad Fischer, asserted that the "diaries" had been smuggled out of East Germany by an East German officer who was his brother

In 1985, the regional court in Hamburg found Mr. Kujau guilty of fraud. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison, but was released a year and a half early.

In later years, Mr. Kujau got into more - but lesser - trouble. Late last year, he was charged a hefty fine by a Stuttgart court because a number of falsified driving licenses were found in his apartment in a police raid. In the same period, he was also fined for having fired a semiautomatic weapon in a Stuttgart pub and was accused of keeping seven unregistered weapons in his house in Bietigheim-Bissingen in southwestern Germany. The judge in the weapons case in Stuttgart, Ulf Petzold, said to him, "You are very apparently a man who is attracted by that which is illegal."

Mr. Kujau was born in eastern Germany, studied art for a time in Dresden in East Germany in the late 50's and moved to what was then West Germany.

Surviving are his wife and a son.

In a way, Mr. Kujau also became somewhat respectable in his later years. In 1996, he was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Stuttgart. And this year he was selling what he called Old Master paintings, but was advertising them as fakes.


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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov