1 9 9 1 (UK)
5 x 60 minute episodes
In 1981, Gerd Heidemann (Jonathan Pryce), a senior reporter for the West German weekly magazine Stern, believes he has stumbled onto the greatest literary find of the century: the personal diaries of Adolf Hitler.
Shrouded in secrecy, Heidemann – dubbed ‘the bloodhound’ for his ability to sniff out a story – and the men of Stern attempt to pull off the greatest scoop in publishing history, blinded by their greed to the fact that the diaries are, in fact, crude forgeries.
The action begins as Heidemann buys Hermann Göring’s yacht, the Carin II, after being assigned to write a story about it. During the course of its restoration, he has a brief affair with Göring’s daughter Edda (Alison Steadman) who introduces him to a number of ex-Nazis.
Through various contacts, Heidemann encounters one of the biggest suppliers of fake Third Reich memorabilia, Conny Fischer (Alexei Sayle) who convinces him that one of Hitler’s transport planes crashed at Boernsedort, spilling out paintings, letters, an Opera, and, of course, the diaries.
Heidemann, in turn, convinces Stern to pay for the diaries, while Fischer ‘creates’ the valuable items, laughing all the way to the Deutsche Bank.
Proving once again that truth is certainly stranger than fiction, this hilarious and bizarre five-part series was based on a true story.
In a hothouse of secrecy, Stern paid 9.34 million marks for 50 fake diaries – along with a mooted second volume of Mein Kampf and even an imaginary Hitler opera – but decided against any early forensic tests, fearing their scoop would be leaked to its rivals.
Only handwriting tests were commissioned, and three separate experts all agreed the diaries were genuine.
With that, Stern rushed into print, convinced that forensic scientists at the Federal Archives would also find them genuine.
Instead, the diaries were declared a “crude forgery”, written in post-war ink; the brown stains that realistically spotted the pages came from the teapot of forger Konrad Kujau, and Hitler’s gold initials on the covers were in fact made of plastic.
The initials were also actually “F.H” as Kujau had run out of the letter “A” and stuck on the Gothic letter “F” instead!
By the time the forgery had been exposed, the “diaries” had been sold to several supposedly astute big-name publishers for more than $2 million; some of the most distinguished historians of the Hitler period and some of the world’s leading graphologists had been duped; various careers had been ruined; and Gerd Heidemann was a social leper, languishing in jail.
Konrad Kujau (Conny Fischer)
Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre)
Julie T. Wallace