BERLIN – When the German newsweekly Stern announced in April 1983 that it had acquired Hitler's previously undiscovered diaries, the magazine's exclusive prompted a worldwide sensation. The editors promised to later hand over 60 handwritten volumes to West Germany's Federal Archives for posterity.
Instead the magazine's scoop turned into a publishing debacle, when it was quickly discovered that the purported diaries were forgeries.
Now, in an unlikely coda 30 years later, fake history was formally enshrined as real history on Tuesday when Germany's Federal Archives said they would accept a collection of the forgeries from Stern as news media rather than Nazi history.
"The fake Hitler diaries are documents of the past," Michael Hollmann, president of the Federal Archives, said in a joint statement with Stern on Tuesday. "They are in good hands at the Federal Archives."
In 1983, editors at Stern provided a reporter, Gerd Heidemann, with millions of marks to buy what they believed to be a significant collection of Hitler's writings as well as other documents. The cover of the magazine declared, "Hitler's Diaries Discovered," in red ink over a photograph of black notebooks. The diaries were also purchased by Britain's Sunday Times.
The find was immediately greeted with skepticism by experts, but the English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was also known as Lord Dacre, pronounced them genuine, lending fleeting legitimacy to the find. His reputation was ruined when experts from the Federal Archives and Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office established that the books were fakes.
The supposed diaries had been written by a Stuttgart dealer in Nazi memorabilia named Konrad Kujau. Mr. Kujau and the journalist, Mr. Heidemann, were both convicted of fraud.
The deception triggered deep soul-searching at Stern, with the magazine's staff members staging sit-ins to protest what they saw as management's bypassing traditional editorial channels and safeguards when they bought and eventually published parts of the diaries without sufficiently checking their authenticity.
"The forged diaries are a part of Stern's history," Dominik Wichmann, Stern's editor in chief, said in the statement Tuesday. "We don't want to push this away, but rather deal with it in an appropriate and factual manner. That's why we decided to give the notebooks to the Federal Archives."
This month Mr. Heidemann publicly asked that the forgeries be returned to him.
The archives are the central institution of memory for the German government, and everything from the cabinet meeting minutes to proceedings from the transportation ministry are preserved in its books and catalogs, which would reach 186 miles if arranged in a line.
"These documents are of great significance to past history and the history of the press," said Thekla Kleindienst, a spokeswoman for the archives. "Everything you read in the papers that is cold coffee by tomorrow, we preserve for eternity."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.