True crime German language drama Faking Hitler, which comes to Channel 4 through its Walter Presents series, is based on an astounding true story from the 1980s.
The six part series, starring Lars Eidinger, Moritz Bleibtreu, and Daniel Donskoy, is set in the newsroom of a leading German national magazine that believes it has just landed the scoop of the century when the previously unseen diaries of Adolf Hitler land in their lap. Dizzy with success, the magazine rushes to publish the documents and sells the serialisation rights to other media groups.
The publication of Hitler’s diaries causes a media storm, but when their authenticity comes into quesiton, the reputations and careers of the journalists involved are threatened. This is the almost unbelieveable true story of the journalists who were duped by a petty conman which inspired the drama series Faking Hitler.
Is Faking Hitler based on a true story?
Yes, Faking Hitler follows the true story of the German magazine Stern (German for Star), which purchased a series of 60 volumes of journals supposedly written by the dictator Adolf Hitler. Stern bought the entire series for 9.3 million Deutsche Marks in 1983 - equivalent to about £7.25 million today - not a bad price for exclusive access to Hitler’s diaries.
The diaries, of which there had been no previous record, contained never before heard details of Hitler’s life, from the Führer’s halitosis, to the fairly significant revelation that he did not know what was happening to European Jews in German occupied territories during the Second World War.
Stern then sold the serialisation rights to several major news organisations, among them Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times. The Times sent historian Hugh Trevor-Roper to verify that the diaries were authentic, and at first he confirmed that they were.
There was just one small problem - the diaries, all 60 volumes of them, were total forgeries. At a press conference Trevor-Roper said that he had changed his mind regarding the authenticity of the documents.
Forensic analysis was carried out and it was quickly concluded that the diaries were in fact forgeries - they had been made by the conman Konrad Kujau. Stern, which had begun publishing the diaries in a serialisation in April 1983 received considerably negative publicity for being so easily fooled.
The magazine’s editors resigned in disgrace and staff held a sit-in at the offices to protest how management had handled the story. It took years for Stern to come back from the scandal, although the magazine is still in print today.
What happened to Konrad Kujau?
German conman Konrad Kujau began working on the Hitler diary forgeries in the 1970s - he had spent a month learning to write in the old German gothic script which Hitler was known to use.
When Gerd Heidemann, a journalist for Stern, learned of the existence of the diaries, he bought them from Kujau and sold them to his employer.
When the diaries were discovered to be forgeries, both Heidemann and Kujauwere arrested. They both received a four and a half year prison sentence - Kujau for forgery, and Heidemann for fraud.
Kujau was released from prison after three years and became a minor celebrity, appearing on German television as a forgery expert. He stood as a candidate for Lord Mayor of Stuttgart in 1996 but gained less than 1,000 votes. Kujau died of cancer in 2000, aged 62.
Did Hitler write a diary?
There is no record of a diary written by Adolf Hitler - the closest thing we have is the 1925 self-pitying autobiography/political manifesto Mein Kampf, written by Hitler whilst he was serving time in prison for his involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch.
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, kept a diary from 1923 to his death in 1945 - these diaries have been published in German and sections are available in English - they are an important source for understanding the inner workings of the Third Reich.
When is Faking Hitler on TV?
Faking Hitler is a six part series - all six episodes landed on All4 on Friday 24 February. Episodes are also airing weekly on Channel 4 at 11pm on Sundays.