Forensics Case: Faking Hitler’s Diaries
On February 18, 1981, staff journalist Gerd Heidemann presented his boss, Manfred Fischer, director of the German publishing giant Gruner and Jahr, with the literary find of the century — Adolph Hitler’s diaries. The documents were handwritten in almost illegible German script. Heidemann said he had received them from a wealthy collector whose brother was an East German general.
Without consulting any historians or document experts, Fischer agreed to purchase the 27-volume diary along with a previously unknown third volume of Mein Kampf for 200,000 marks.
After receiving the works, Fischer set about authenticating them. He gave portions of the documents and samples of Hitler’s handwriting to Dr. Max Frei-Sulzer of the forensic department of the Zurich police and to Ordway Hilton, a world-renowned document examiner in Landrum, South Carolina.
Unbeknownst to Dr. Frei-Sulzer and Hilton, the handwriting samples came from the same source as the diaries. Both men determined that the writings were from the same hand and that the documents, therefore, were authentic.
Bantam Books, Newsweek, and Publisher Rupert Murdoch entered into a bidding war for worldwide publication rights. Murdoch flew in Hugh Trevor-Roper, a renowned British historian, who, while working under the same deception as Frei-Sulzer and Hilton, reached a similar conclusion. Newsweek won the bidding, however, agreeing to pay $3.75 million.
Fortunately, at the request of Gruner and Jahr, the forensic department of the West German police conducted its own evaluation, and what it uncovered shocked the publishing world. The paper on which the diaries were written contained blankophor, a whitener that didn’t exist until 1954. The bindings contained threads of viscose and polyester, neither of which existed in the 1940s.
Furthermore, none of the four types of ink that were used were widely available during World War II, and a measurement of chlorine evaporation from the ink revealed that the documents were less than a year old. The manuscripts, it turns out, were fake.