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Fascinating Account of a Con Man Who Cashed in on the Public's Morbid Fascination with A. Hitler
classicalsteve from Oakland, CA
5 August 2011
Konrad "Connie" Fischer (Alexei Sayle), a.k.a. Konrad Kujau, was a con
man who knew his mark. A "con man" or "confidence man" is a
sophisticated cheat who uses fraud to deceive a mark out of his or her
money. In this case, the mark was the international press. Gerd
Heidemann, a journalist for the German magazine Stern, was facing a
stalled career. He became the perfect target for a series of hoaxes
known as the Hitler Diaries. This film portrays one of the greatest
literary cons of the 20th century.
Heidemann needed something to jump-start his writing career to get back
on track. In the series, he is portrayed as something of an amateur war
scholar who enjoys collecting artifacts once owned by tyrants of
infamous regimes. First, he buys Hermann Göring's yacht which looks
like it might have come out of the Battle of the Bulge. Göring, the
most eccentric and grandiose of Hitler's inner circle, was head of the
Luftwaffe, the German Air Force during World War II. The journalist
invests thousands of German marks to restore the vessel in hopes to
invite former Nazis to board and tell stories about their experiences
as budding Hitler youths. The boat does draw the former Nazis like a
magnet, but the magazine Stern is unimpressed with Heidemann's results.
They want something with more meat.
Heidemann then has a chance meeting with a Nazi memorabilia collector
and sees an example of a supposed diary written by Hitler. After much
persistence, the collector finally reveals his source, Konrad Fischer,
a militaria dealer in Stuttgart. However, the collector balks at
introducing them, but now the journalist has a name. Another of
Heidemann's colleagues meets Fischer at a drinking party full of former
Nazi sympathizers. They take old American songs and "arianize" them.
Heidemann finally meets Fischer and wants to see if there are more
diaries with the possibility of acquiring them. Fischer shows him a few
volumes. Convinced of their authenticity, Heidemann gets financing from
his publication. Asked how he acquired them, Fischer tells him a story,
which is a vital part of any con game. Fischer claims they are from his
brother who is a high-ranking officer in East Germany which was then
under the Soviet Iron Curtain. The diaries and other material were
supposedly retrieved from a plane which crashed in 1945 containing much
Nazi material, including paintings and supposedly an opera by Hitler.
The diaries are smuggled out of East Germany to West Germany aboard a
truck hauling pianos between the countries. Fischer finally agrees to
give Heidemann several diaries for the princely sum of 200,000 marks
per volume, about US $250,000 in 2010. Essentially, Fischer sells them
to Heidemann who in turn sells them to Stern for a profit. Once the
first sale is made, the hoax has been engaged, and Heidemann returns
frequently with more money for more diaries. By the end, there will be
58 diaries in all.
Heidemann makes money as the go-between and becomes a major player in
the publication. Stern is convinced they will make a fortune in their
own publication plus they will sell the rights to international press
markets, such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch and Newsweek in the US.
Everyone is happy. Except there is only one problem. The diaries are
complete fakes, forged by Fischer in a back room with a calligraphic
pen and a host of literature regarding the Nazis which could be found
at any library. There is no "brother" in East Germany and no evidence
that the crashed plane contained the material supposedly found there by
However, handwriting experts and other scholars are convinced of their
authenticity. Will this be the greatest literary find of the century,
or the worst literary con played on the press who wanted to feed the
public's continued appetite for all things regarding Hitler and the
Nazis in Germany? A compelling chronicle of events of the Hitler
Diaries, with strange Monty Python-esque interludes with Pryce looking
like a character out of a Wagnerian opera. Not to be missed for those
who like hoaxes and Hitler.
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