The crazy true story of the Hitler diaries

Dear Diary: Really on the fence about the whole "invade Russia" thing. It would be so awesome to pull off something that Napoleon couldn't! And it's not like Stalin wouldn't do it to me if he thought he could get away with it. The Negative Nellies keep saying "nein." Eva reminds me, "Who's the Fuhrer, you or them?" and she's not wrong. What to do, what to do.... And so to bed.

There are lots of lost documents in history. The Royal Library of Alexandria was destroyed in a fire in the First Century BCE, says Encyclopedia Britannica. The Mayan Codices, containing that culture's history, religion, and learning, were burned in the 16th Century by Spanish invaders, per Smithsonian. There are others that we know of, that have disappeared into the mists of history. What about the ones that we don't know of — but wish we had?

Dear Diary: Invaded Poland (finally!). It was the best day ever! And so to bed.

There are plenty of historical records as we get into the modern era, and World War II is no exception. Some things were destroyed in the course of war, but much remained. Yet certainly a tantalizing object would have been the personal diaries of the leader of the Third Reich: Adolf Hitler.

Had Hitler's diaries really become available?

Not that such a document was ever known to exist. There was a cautionary tale, too; in 1968, says Britannica, the Sunday Times of London had dropped $250,000 on what was purported to be the diaries of Benito Mussolini, the Fascist wartime leader of Italy. They were fakes. But ... what ... if?

Come the 1980s and that tantalizing object seemed to appear. The backstory was that the diaries, all 60 volumes of them, were on a plane that crashed in East Germany at the end of the war. The first volume appeared for sale in 1979, offered by Konrad Kujau, as The Independent explains. Kujau had already made a tidy living selling Hitler paintings that he'd forged. Diaries must have seemed relatively easy, though he did perform at least some research to add veracity. Maybe it was the small creative touches that really sold it: ""Have to go to the post office, to send a few telegrams."

Dear Diary: Can't decide how to reply when given the "Heil Hitler" salute. "Heil Myself" seems, well, silly. Must work on this. And so to bed.

No one listened to the expert

Word got out, of course, that this goldmine of information was available. A journalist with Germany's Stern magazine contacted Kujau. Money was exchanged, though exactly how much remains in dispute. Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times got into the situation as well. Cautionary voices were raised, but something else — hope, ambition, greed; call it what you will — prevailed. The Times bought the materials from Stern with the idea of publishing — the diaries supposedly covered the years 1932-45 — with a $200,000 down payment in 1983. The presses rolled, and this in spite of the reservations voiced by the expert they'd consulted.

He spoke out anyway and apparently at this point, someone decided to do actual tests on the actual materials which revealed them to be less than authentic. In what could be seen as a "better late than never" scenario, The Guardian quotes the British publication this way: "The Sunday Times accepts the report of the German archivists that the volumes they have examined contain materials that demonstrate the diaries are not authentic. In view of this, the Sunday Times will not go ahead with publication."

Kujau and the German journalist who worked with him both went to prison. When Kujau was released he opened an art gallery that specialized in forgeries.

Dear Diary: You won't believe it! ...