Tomato Patch: The hunt for Hitler’s pastry chef’s diary
By Greg Glassner
I arrived home in Virginia from 12 days in New England to find I had landed in True Confessions Week.
My first gander at a Richmond newspaper in many days revealed that Gov. Bob McDonnell is apologizing for his indiscretion in taking gifts and loans from family friend, businessman and political benefactor Jonnie R. Williams Sr.
My first look at cable news in as many days revealed that New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is confessing all over again to texting explicit photos of himself to unwitting recipients. (Talk about transparency in government!)
In this spirit, however, I figure it is high time that I make a clean breast of it (pun intended) and confess to an indiscretion of my own.
Although I led a relatively spotless, if largely undistinguished life as a newspaper editor, I was not without my minor sins.
You see, nearly 30 years ago I wrote a Letter to the Editor under a pseudonym and published same in the Chesapeake Post, a weekly newspaper that I served as editor. My predecessor had done this all the time when he was short of Letters to the Editor, so in a sense I was continuing a tradition.
But the editorial pages are considered sacrosanct in newspapers and publishing your own Letter to the Editor is considered a faux pas, if not an ethical violation.
This was during the time that a German newspaper was duped into purchasing and publishing excerpts from a 60-volume diary purportedly written by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. These so-called “Hitler Diaries” were later proven to be forgeries.
In my Letter to the Editor, I claimed to be a collector and dealer in World War II memorabilia who lived in Zuni, a small hamlet on Route 460, between Suffolk and Petersburg.
I claimed that I had come across what was believed to be the sole surviving copy of a diary penned by Hitler’s personal pastry chef at Berchtesgaden, the dictator’s mountain lair. The diary contained some of the chef’s favorite recipes and revealed that the powerful WWII villain had quite a sweet tooth, often jumping for joy and clicking the heels of his riding boots in anticipation when served portions of Sachertorte, apple strudel and Black Forest cake fresh from the kitchen.
I figured I had penned a letter sufficiently silly that any reader would recognize it as harmless satire. In order to not use a name that might belong to a real person, I signed my forged letter Gerg Renssalg.
The letter elicited no comment from the readers of the Chesapeake Post but several weeks later I learned that it had caused some consternation at the afternoon daily in Norfolk.
A reporter there had seen the letter in the Post and decided to track down this Gerg Renssalg fellow for an interview. He was complaining to another reporter that no one in Zuni had ever heard of the antiquities dealer when the newspaper’s editor sauntered by.
He and I had worked together during my seven-year tenure at the Norfolk paper and he immediately recognized Gerg Renssalg as Greg Glassner, spelled backwards. The hunt for the diary of Hitler’s pastry chef was called off.
I can’t recall ever penning a fake Letter to the Editor after this experience, although I did attempt an April Fools edition of a newspaper that also caused a few readers to assume was entirely on the up and up.
The lesson here is that satire is only effective when the readers get it.