The Russians did not know what they were until they were examined and authenticated recently by the German historian Elke Frohlich, of the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, the world's leading expert on Goebbels. Although sections of Goebbels' diaries have been published before, this new find may well add significantly to knowledge of the Nazi leaders in the war years.
However, to the dismay of academics and historians, the man who is examining the material is David Irving, the historian who has become a hero of European neo-Nazi movements as an apologist for Hitler. A deal has been struck between the Russian archive and Mr Irving on behalf of the Sunday Times, with a view to the paper's serialising the diaries later in the year. Mr Irving's deal with the paper is understood to involve a six-figure sum.
It was Mr Irving who brought to the attention of the Sunday Times the Hitler diaries, which turned out to be a fake; but there seems to be no doubt that the Goebbels material is genuine.
Goebbels wrote virtually daily diary entries, beginning in the summer of 1924 and ending on 29 April 1945, two days before he and his wife killed their five children and then committed suicide in the bunker in Berlin.
Some time before, he had ordered all his diary entries from the beginning to almost the end to be copied on to glass plates - the forerunner of microfiches - to be preserved for the future.
Several volumes of authentic diaries have been published in the past, most notably the four 750-page volumes, beginning in the spring of 1924 and ending in July 1941, edited by Ms Frohlich. That is the fullest collection that exists, but even in that there are major gaps such as the second half of 1938, which included the annexation of Austria and the rape of Czechoslovakia. Very little of 1944 has been published anywhere.
Mr Irving was seen by the Independent in the Moscow archives this week. In his book Hitler's War he quoted selectively from published Goebbels diaries to imply that Hitler was not involved in the Holocaust, and ignored sections that proved inconvenient.
Last night Lord Dacre of Glanton, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who himself has edited part of Goebbels' already published diaries, said: 'David Irving is a sinister person. He is an able and genuine researcher but he is not reputable. He is not someone I would have chosen. However, one of the difficult things from Irving's point of view is that the Goebbels diaries make it quite clear that Hitler was the most extreme in his support of the Final Solution.'
Lord Dacre, who used to be on the board of Times Newspapers and was involved in the Hitler diaries fiasco, added that the Moscow archives could indeed contain new material which would interest any student of policy in wartime Germany.
Peter Pulzer, Gladstone Professor of Government at Oxford University and an expert on the Third Reich, said: 'It must be remembered that Goebbels' diaries were written very much with a view to later publication. They are not a sincere and honest and spontaneous record of what happened, so one does have to read between the lines. But this new material could throw light not on the making of high policy but on the relationships between the Nazi leaders.
'David Irving is strongly committed to a retrospectively favourable view of the Third Reich, but he does have considerable experience in evaluating documents dating from the Nazi period.'
Andrew Neil, the editor of the Sunday Times, said yesterday that 'the missing chunks' of Goebbels diaries which he hoped to publish could constitute a major find and throw light on 'the most important historical events of the Nazi years'. He defended the use of Mr Irving, saying: 'I think David Irving's political views and mine are an Atlantic Ocean apart. I would not have accepted at face value an interpretation of a man who claims that Hitler was not responsible for the Holocaust. But what is at issue is his ability to authenticate. He is a technician, one of the few qualified technicians in the country. It is as a technician we are using him.'
He added that with the experience of the Hitler diaries in mind, which he emphasised did not occur under his editorship, nothing would be published until he was satisfied from a number of different sources of the new material's authenticity.
But Mr Irving's involvement was bitterly attacked by the Wiener Library, the London-based institute specialising in the Holocaust. Its deputy director, David Cesarani, said: 'David Irving denies the gas chambers. Anyone who deals with him is tainted with that.'
How the deal was done, page 19
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