The story sounds like it could be made up, an elaborate hoax meant to fool Germany's media and public alike. A woman claiming to be the great niece of Konrad Kujau, author of the mother of all forgeries, the "Hitler Diaries," has been convicted of selling forged versions of paintings made by Kujau in his later years, themselves copies of famous masterpieces.
Even more suspicious, an in-depth piece on the trial recently appeared in the German newsmagazine Stern, the same publication which fell hard for the Hitler Diaries back in 1983. This time, though, the story is true.
On Thursday, following two years of legal proceedings, a Dresden court handed Petra Kujau a two-year suspended sentence and ordered her to perform 180 hours of community service for having obtained 300 falsified paintings, attaching Kujau's signature to them, and selling them for a total of €300,000. Her partner received a suspended sentence of 20 months.
The falsifications in question were, absurdly, fakes of Konrad Kujau's own copies of masterpieces from artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Franz Marc and Claude Monet. A talented artist, Kujau, who died in 2000, turned to producing fakes in the late 1980s following his four-year stint in prison for fraud stemming from the "Hitler Diaries" case. Though clearly marked as fakes, Kujau's newfound fame meant that people were willing to pay up to €3,500 for his work. He also sold many of his own pieces.
Made in Asia
Dresden prosecutors say that Petra Kujau and her accomplice purchased fakes produced in Asia before attaching Konrad Kujau's signature to them and selling them on. She was convicted and sentenced on the basis of the 40 counts she ultimately confessed to.
Excerpts from Kujau's "Hitler Diaries" were published by Stern in April 1983 after a reporter for the magazine received the documents, which had allegedly been smuggled out of East Germany by a "Dr. Fischer." The diaries were said to have been found in the wreckage of a plane that had crashed just before the end of the war. Stern paid 9.3 million deutschmarks (€4.7 million) for the 62 volumes. Soon after the magazine began publishing excerpts, a test performed on the diaries by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office revealed that the paper on which the diaries had been written was clearly a postwar product. The case generated headlines around the world.
Petra Kujau worked for Konrad Kujau for a time in the 1990s. Prosecutors on Thursday, however, expressed doubt that she was in fact related to the famous forger.