The curious story of Hitler, the fake Leica and the Russian camera forgers

Zorki ‘Kriegsmarine’ Leica
Is it a military Leica? Is it even a Leica at all? No, it’s a Russian Zorki 1B which is, however, a copy of the Leica II. It’s not a bad copy either, except that all the Wehrmacht Leicas from the WWII period were model IIIs. (Image credit: Paul Burrows/Australian Camera Magazine)

If you like a good spy story, you’ll be familiar with the operative who’s unmasked as – or confesses to being – a double agent while still concealing a third identity. It can be very hard to follow. As is the story of the counterfeit German military Leicas, because these cameras aren’t not just military Leicas, they’re not Leicas at all. See, we’re already getting caught up in double negatives.

And, if you’re familiar with the story of the Hitler diaries, you’ll know that, regardless of whether it’s in good taste or not, there’s a strong collectors market for Nazi-era memorabilia. The forger behind the Hitler diaries – Konny Kujau – reproduced a whole range of items purported to be linked to Adolf Hitler, including paintings, letters, poems and uniforms. In fact, so prolific was his output that when experts came to authenticate the handwriting in the diaries, they compared it with letters that Kujau had forged, but which had been accepted as genuine. Recently, a watch belonging to Hitler – presumably authenticated – sold at auction in the USA for US$1.1 million (around £890,000/AU$1.6 million). Not surprisingly, the sale attracted controversy, but the auction house contended, “Whether good or bad history, it must be preserved”.

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Paul Burrows

Paul has been writing about cameras, photography and photographers for 40 years. He joined Australian Camera as an editorial assistant in 1982, subsequently becoming the magazine’s technical editor, and has been editor since 1998. He is also the editor of sister publication ProPhoto, a position he has held since 1989. In 2011, Paul was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute Of Australian Photography (AIPP) in recognition of his long-term contribution to the Australian photo industry. Outside of his magazine work, he is the editor of the Contemporary Photographers: Australia series of monographs which document the lives of Australia’s most important photographers.