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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Selling Hitler by Robert Harris

22. – 535.) Selling Hitler by Robert Harris – I recall over 25 years ago hearing about the sensational finding of Hitler’s diaries and then immediately hearing they were fakes. Harris wonderfully recreates the fraud upon the Stern magazine.
            It starts with a historical note at the end of WW II. One of ten planes carrying Hitler’s private papers and memorabilia crashes in East Germany and Hitler is distressed. There is no record the plane contained diaries. None of Hitler’s aides and closest confidants had ever seen or heard of him writing diaries.
            The fraud builds with reporter, Gerd Heidemann, obsessed with Goering. He is facing financial ruin from buying and starting to restore Goering’s yacht. Heidemann enters the circle of the “Mountain People”, the survivors of those who served Hitler such as his secretaries, searching for stories. He ends up buying memorabilia and documents and ultimately is given the opportunity to buy Hitler’s diaries.
            The forger, Konrad Kujau, is a good conman but no historian. He does have the facility of being an adequate painter who can paint forgeries of Hitler’s paintings. His real skill is being able to forge handwriting. He can produce more than competent forgeries of several leading Nazis including Hess and Bormann. He proves very skilled at forging Hitler’s writing and signature. He has the skill to write rather than copy Hitler’s writing. (The most intriguing unknown fact to me was that Hitler wrote in the old German Gothic script.)
            When Heidemann offers the diaries to the Stern his editors are dismissive but executives above are entranced by this huge scoop. Blinded by their desire for this great coup and constrained by the need for secrecy to preserve the exclusivity of their find they start spending large sums to get the diaries with no effective analysis of them.
            When eventually handwriting analysis is done 3 different experts authenticate the diaries. Partly, they are fooled by Kujau’s skill and partly by being given some comparison material that was actually forged by Kujau.
            Stern does no forensic analysis, for no valid reason, until very late in the process.
The magazine does bring in Hugh Trevor-Roper, noted Hitler biographer and English historian, who, after a superficial examination of a small portion of the diaries, allows himself to be pushed into a hasty opinion. He forever regrets his opinion they are genuine.
When the diaries are published simple scientific analysis conclusively proves the diaries are not only fakes they are crude fakes. Stern has spent 9 million marks, almost $US4 million.
I was reminded of Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler when Harris sets out part of the excitement and allure of the diaries was the public and academic interest in hoping to understand better the decisions made by Hitler.
The aftermath was dominated by conspiracy theorists as East and West attributed the forgeries to opposing intelligence agencies. Even when it was clearly proven that Kujau acted alone there were theories someone or some agency helped him. I thought of the conspiracy theories around Lee Harvey Oswald. Academics and professionals have a hard time accepting a “primitive” like Kujau could create convincing fakes and dupe them.
The saga of the diaries is an excellent demonstration to experts to insist on the information you need for an opinion, verify the information provided and resist being pressured into giving any opinion, even a preliminary opinion, until you are ready.
Harris may be even better at non-fiction than he is at writing fiction. (May 23/10)

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