Homepage of Die Welt showing advertisement of Heinrich Himmler Briefe
Homepage of Die Welt showing advertisement of Heinrich Himmler Briefe

The multi-media special “Himmler – Die Handschrift des Massenmörders,” (Himmler – The Handwriting of A Mass Murderer) originated from a historic discovery.

In January, 2011, Vanessa Lappa, Israeli filmmaker and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, contacted Die Welt’s Editor in Chief, Jan-Eric Peters. She had hundreds of verified private documents from one of the most powerful Nazis and organisers of the Holocaust, Heinrich Himmler. Lappa was already working on a documentary about the story.

Almost three years later in December 2013, our goal at Die Welt was to find an appropriate format for this exceptional material — for the printed newspaper, but especially for online.

We decided to build an entirely new multi-media dossier divided into eight chapters. Each chapter would focus on a different key aspect of the documents, featuring original film excerpts, interviews, picture galleries, and so on. 

There were two challenges:

  1. We had to put the project together very quickly.

  2. It had to be kept strictly secret until the launch on January 26, 2014, meaning a small team of editors, designers, and coders had to operate more or less day and night.

We decided to publish the material step-by-step, producing one online chapter and one print chapter per day, which allowed our users to dive into the stories to gain an unusually deep insight into the historical material.

The special received extraordinary feedback: hundreds of newspapers, Web sites, television and radio stations from all over the world reported about our story.

Many of them got their first impression by viewing our online special. Avner Shalev, director of the Yad Vashem World Center for Holocaust Research, called our discovery historically very important. Numerous reactions from our readers and a high number of visits to our site showed that the interest was enormous.

Because of the delicate topic, we deliberately chose not to enable direct comments on our special. Nevertheless, we had lots of feedback via our social media channels, Facebook and Twitter.