The Hitler Diaries

In retrospect, it was so lame. A cache of Hitler’s diaries, some sixty-two handwritten volumes spanning the period from 1932 to the eve of his death in 1945, was supposed to have been found in an East German barn. The German source who sold the diaries to the magazine Der Stern, Konrad Kujau, claimed to have smuggled them out of East Germany, one at a time — a process that took two years.

Kujau was a well-known forger who’d been caught peddling fake Nazi memorabilia in the past. He was apparently quite good; some of the letters he’d forged were still considered genuine at the time of the hoax. German handwriting experts compared the diaries against some of Kujau’s previous forgeries and pronounced them genuine as well. So did the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was brought in by the Times to authenticate the documents. The first installment was duly published on April 25, 1983. 
Skeptics pounced on the story the minute it hit the press. British historian Alan Bullock, author of the highly-regarded biography Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, noted that “despite extraordinary efforts... to scrape together every scrap of information about Hitler, there has never been a suggestion that he kept diaries.” Others complained that the diary entries seemed out of character. “I read one excerpt where he was supposed to have written ‘ha, ha, ha,’” said another expert. “He wasn’t that kind of person.”
Still, it must have been hard to resist succumbing to the hoax when you had entries like this one, allegedly written by Hitler in June of 1941: "On Eva's wishes, I am thoroughly examined by my doctors. Because of the new pills I have violent flatulence, and - says Eva - bad breath." Nobody knew the real Adolf Hitler, not even his closest associates. Who'd have guessed that such a monster had problems with flatulence and bad breath?

Just this past April, Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that publishing the Hitler Diaries in 1983 was a "major mistake" which he would have to live with for the rest of his life. Murdoch offered Der Stern $3 million for world rights to the diaries in a bidding war against Newsweek. A recent New Yorker blog suggests that even after the hoax was revealed, Murdoch came out ahead.
The last word, I think, should go to Trevor-Roper. "For Mythopoeia is a far more common characteristic of the human race (and perhaps especially of the German race) than veracity," he wrote in The Last Days of Hitler. Or maybe we should go with P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."