The Hitler Diaries Hoax: How a Petty Thief Fooled Historians

Alongside works like the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, the purported diaries of Adolf Hitler are among history’s most notorious hoaxes. Penned by convicted thief and Nazi sympathizer Konrad Kujau from 1981 to 1983, the diaries were purchased by German news outlet Stern for 9.3 million Deutsche Marks ($3.7 million).

But how did Kujau manage to pull off such a monumental hoax?

1983: A Distinguished Historian Authenticates the Purported Diaries of Hitler

In 1983, shortly after Stern’s purchase of the diaries, British historian and Cambridge professor Hugh Trevor-Roper was contacted by Colin Webb, assistant editor of The Times. 

Webb informed Trevor-Roper that Stern had supposedly come into possession of the diaries of Adolf Hitler, something that Trevor-Roper immediately took with a grain of salt. Hitler, as the historian knew, had largely given up on writing by 1933. Factor in the fact that many other fake Nazi documents had been circulating in recent times, including forged diaries of Eva Braun, Hitler’s wife.

Because Stern was offering to sell The Times the foreign serial rights to the diaries, Webb wanted an expert’s opinion regarding their authenticity.

Unfortunately, Trevor-Roper, while an expert in 16gh and 17th centuries, was probably not the most qualified historian for the task; for one thing, he was not fluent in German. Plus, representatives from Stern, who stood to gain a massive sum of money from the diaries, deliberately misled Trevor-Roper, lying to him that the pages from the diaries had been chemically tested and found to be of the correct time period.

“I was also impressed,” Trevor-Roper would later say, “by the sheer bulk of the diaries. Who, I asked myself, would forge 60 volumes when six would have served his purpose?”

After his examination, he informed Webb that the diaries were indeed genuine.

Konrad Kujau: Master Forger

It would later come to be known that the diaries were in fact a forgery by Konrad Kujau, a convicted thief who was, to put it bluntly, obsessed with the Third Reich. A collector of Nazi memorabilia, he was familiar enough with Hitler’s handwriting to be able to imitate it. He could even emulate Hitler’s painting style, having previously sold faux Hitler paintings on the black market.

After the diaries were made public, it took only a year before staff of the federal German archives exposed them as fakes, made with postwar ink, paper, glue, and binding. The hoax landed Kujau four-and-a-half years in prison.

He died in 2000.

On Key

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