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Verdict in Hitler diaries trial comes as no surprise, but many questions remain

Monday's verdict in the trial of the notorious Hitler diaries fraud leaves as many questions open as it closes. It confirms the guilt -- which has hardly been in doubt in the past two years -- of forger Konrad Kujau and one-time Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann.

But the verdict says nothing about the complicity or innocence of the Stern editors who let themselves be duped.

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Nor does it establish where the missing bulk of the 9.3 million marks (about $3 million) might be that Stern paid for the bogus diaries back in 1983.

The Hamburg State Court sentenced Mr. Heidemann to four years and eight months imprisonment, and Kujau to 41/2 years.

Kujau's companion Edith Lieblang was sentenced to eight months, but will be released right away because of time already served during the trial. Neither Heidemann nor Kujau will probably stay in jail much longer either, given the combination of time already served and parole possibilities.

The case got the nickname of ``the swindle of the century'' when it was first exposed shortly after Stern began publishing the diaries in April 1983. The story Stern told was that Hitler's hitherto unknown diaries, more than 60 of them, had been lost in an airplane crash in what is now East Germany and had only now surfaced.

Stern published its first excerpts with great fanfare -- and sold reprint rights to the Sunday Times of London, Paris Match, and other publications.

Heidemann and Stern swore by the authenticity of the material and produced British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper as their star witness.

There was egg on Mr. Trevor-Roper's face and a hole in Stern's pocket when the Federal Archives soon established that the notebooks in question had been produced after Hitler's death at the end of World War II.

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Heidemann is reported to have pocketed more than 1.5 million marks himself and to have given a similar amount to the forger and dealer in military memorabilia, Kujau. Some 5 million marks (almost $2 million) remain unaccounted for.

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