Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Famous Scams - Konrad Kujau

Konrad Paul Kujau (June 27, 1938, Lobau, Saxony - September 12, 2000, Stuttgart, Germany) was an illustrator and forger who became famous in 1983 as the creator of the so-called Hitler Diaries, for which he received 2.5 million DM from a person who in turn sold it for 9.3 million DM to the magazine Stern.
"Konny" Kujau was one of five children of Richard Kujau, a cobbler, who died in 1944. Kujau's early life was of unremitting poverty and his mother was obliged to send her children into orphanages for periods of time. Konrad did well at school, but was obliged to leave at 16 and was apprenticed to a locksmith. After a year he quit and took a succession of casual jobs. In 1957 a warrant was issued for his arrest over the theft of a microphone from the Lobau Youth Club, where he was then working. Kujau left East Germany and fled to West Berlin to stay with his uncle.
Kujau eventually settled in Stuttgart where he drifted into a life of casual work and petty crime. In 1961, after several arrests and two short jail terms for theft, Kujau met and settled down with Edith Lieblang. They opened a bar, but the next year he was arrested for forging luncheon vouchers under the name 'Peter Fischer' and spent five days in prison. Kujau and Lieblang then started an office cleaning business which eventually prospered. Incidentally, a 'Dr. Fischer' was originally named as the source of the Hitler Diaries.
In the early 1970s Kujau began to illegally import Nazi militaria from East Germany. In order to increase their value Kujau began to forge documents to give them false provenance. He also began to forge paintings - something that had been a mere hobby until then - signing them "Adolph Hitler". Kujau became more ambitious as he realized the potential market for Nazi memorabilia. He copied out Hitler's published Mein Kampf and sold it as the 'original manuscript' To an old pistol he attached a label claiming that it was the gun with which Hitler committed suicide. He was aided by the fact that most 'collectors' of Nazi items were highly secretive, since possession of these items was illegal under German law.
In 1978 he sold his first "Hitler Diary" to a collector. In 1980 he was contacted by the journalist Gerd Heidemann who had learned of the diary. Kujau told Heidemann that the diaries were in the possession of his brother, who was a General in the East German army. Heidemann made a deal with Kujau for 'the rest' of the diaries.
Over the next two years Kujau faked a further 61 volumes and sold them to Heidemann for 2.5 million DM. Heidemann in turn received 9 million DM from his employers at Stern.
However, on their publication in 1983 the diaries were soon proven to be fakes and Heidemann and Kujau were arrested. In August 1984 Kajau was sentenced to four-and-a-half years for forgery and Lieblang one year as an accomplice. Heidemann was convicted of fraud and received a sentence of four years and eight months.
On his release from prison after three years Kaujau became something of a minor celebrity appearing on TV as a 'forgery expert', and set up a business selling ' genuine Kajau fakes' in the style of various major artists. He stood for election as Mayor of Stuttgart in 1996, receiving over 9000 votes. Kujau died of cancer in 2000.
In 2006 his grandniece, Petra Kajau, was charged with selling 'fake forgeries', cheap Asian-made copies of famous paintings with forged signatures of Konrad Kajau.

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