Bitter Memories: 'Hitler Diaries' Discoverer Living on Welfare

A quarter of a century ago, German reporter Gerd Heidemann stunned the world by claiming he had unearthed Hitler's diaries. Within two weeks, his career was in tatters after it emerged they had been forged by an antique dealer. He never recovered from the scandal.

Better days: Heidemann at a news conference on April 25, 1983, holding up one of the diaries.
DPA

Better days: Heidemann at a news conference on April 25, 1983, holding up one of the diaries.

It would have been the greatest scoop of 20th century, if only it had been true.

In April 1983, German reporter Gerd Heidemann, smiling triumphantly and squinting at the flashguns of the world's press, declared that he had found Adolf Hitler's diaries.

For a few weeks he lived every reporter's dream -- global attention, the respect and accolades of his peers, the promise of a prosperous life in the limelight.

But the 60 volumes he had acquired for $5 million from Konrad Kujau, an antiques dealer and painter, on behalf of Stern magazine, soon turned out to be forgeries.

The fakes were good enough to fool a number of experts, but scientific tests betrayed them two weeks after Stern had started publishing excerpts with the proud claim that history would have to be rewritten.

Heidemann was convicted of embezzlement after being accused of billing the magazine for more than the diaries actually cost. He spent time in jail and today lives alone in a cramped Hamburg apartment on €350 a month with €700,000 of debts. Now 76, he is shunned by former colleagues who have not forgiven him for one of of the greatest media debacles of all time.

"I was the big scapegoat for them. They all ganged up on me. There was a lot of envy and schadenfreude involved," he told the newspaper Bild in an interview published on Tuesday. "At last star reporter Heidemann had made a mistake."

Contacted by SPIEGEL ONLINE on Tuesday, Heidemann declined to comment, saying he has an exclusive contract to talk only to Bild this week.

The diaries had been written by Kujau, who said he'd acquired them from a contact in then-communist East Germany.

Heidemann always maintained that he was fooled by Kujau, who spent three years in jail for his fraud and who thrived after his release, becoming a media celebrity with regular appearances on chat shows where he would display his signature-forging skills. Kujau died in 2000.

While writing the diaries, Kujau drew on his own knowledge, on history books and his impressions of what it must have been like to be a dictator. The result was so banal in parts that it seems astonishing, in hindsight, that anyone could have believed they were genuine.

For example, the diaries included passages on Hitler's relationship with girlfriend Eva Braun, who didn't understand how hard he had to work.

"I've really got to have a serious talk with Eva. She thinks that a man who leads Germany can take as much time as he wants for private matters," wrote Kujau's Hitler. Most of the diaries remain in Stern's vaults and some choice passages were published five years ago, on the occasion of the fiasco's 20th anniversary.

An entry dated June 1935 reads: "Eva now has two dogs, so she won't get bored."

Here's one from December 1938: "Now a year is nearly over. Have I achieved my goals for the Reich? Save for a few small details, yes!"

One entry during the 1936 Berlin Olympics reads: "Eva wants to come to the Games in Berlin, have had tickets delivered to her and her girlfriends. Hope my stomach cramps don't return during the Games."

Heidemann, once an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia who even acquired Hermann Goering's yacht "Carin II," spends his days sorting files gathered over the years prior to 1983 when he travelled the world covering major stories for Stern.

"Almost everyone who wanted to finish me is dead," he told Bild. "But I'm still alive."

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