Few historical figures have impacted the world like Adolf Hitler did. In 1983, Gerd Heidemann, German journalist announced that he discovered the lost diaries of Adolf Hitler. He sold the publication rights to West German magazine Stern for 10 million German marks (estimated $6 million USD).
Prior to publication, Heidemann claimed to have received the diaries from a “Dr. Fischer.” Stern announced the start of publication on April 25. However, the magazine did not subject the diaries to scientific tests. The publishing company, Gruner + Jahr, feared the possibility of leaks.
Newsweek bought the publication rights for the United States and historian Gerhard Weinberg determined the diaries were real The Sunday Times (London), bought the publishing rights for Britain after the discovery. Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who also director of the newspaper, looked at the diaries and also gave his approval.
Almost immediately after publication, questions were raised about the authenticity of the diaries. Two weeks after the announcement, Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives), determined that the diaries were forged because they were written on modern paper with modern ink. Julius Grant, a British forensic scientist and intelligence officer, confirmed that the diaries were fakes.
The editors of Stern, The Sunday Times and Newsweek all resigned. Stern has never fully re-gained its standing in the German public. “Dr. Fischer” was discovered to be illustrator Konrad Jujau and he, along with Heidemann, were later sentenced to four years in prison each for forgery and embezzlement. In 2002, Heidemann was revealed to have been a double agent for East Germany.
This event serves as a major lesson for journalists and media outlets. The magazine was desparate to have a major story and the excitement prevented them from checking to see whether the story was actually there. Now instead of being a core piece of German media, Stern is a laughingstock. It was not worth the trouble in the end.