In 1973, West German journalist Gerd Heidemann bought Hermann Göring’s yacht, the Carin II, after being assigned to write a story about it by Stern magazine.
During the course of its restoration, he had a brief affair with Göring’s daughter Edda, who introduced him to a number of ex-Nazis.
Through various contacts, Heidemann discovered a series of 60 volumes of journals purportedly written by Adolf Hitler, but in fact forged by Konrad Kujau (one of the biggest suppliers of fake Third Reich memorabilia) between 1981 and 1983.
The diaries were purchased in 1983 for 9.3 million Deutsche Marks (£2.33 million or US$3.7 million) by Stern, which sold serialisation rights to several news organisations including British newspaper The Sunday Times, which asked their independent director, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, to authenticate the diaries; he did so, pronouncing them genuine.
Charles Hamilton Jr, a Manhattan dealer of autograph manuscripts was asked to comment on the so-called Hitler diaries supposedly found in an East German hayloft. Mr Hamilton, a white-haired, elf-like man called the diaries “a misbegotten prevarication.”
A spokesman for the Federal Archives in Koblenz confirmed that they had arranged for the examination of “about ten pages” of Hitler’s handwriting for Stern, but denied having authenticated any diaries
Eventually, rigorous forensic analysis, which had not been performed previously, quickly confirmed that the diaries were fakes.
Kujau and Heidemann spent time in prison for their part in the fraud, and several newspaper editors lost their jobs. Kujau died of cancer in Stuttgart in September 2000.
The story of the scandal was the basis for the ITV series Selling Hitler (1991) and the German cinema release Schtonk! (1992).