“The Counterfeiters” is a war movie made in Germany and released in 2007. It was directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. It is based on a memoir by Holocaust survivor Adolf Burger entitled The Devil’s Workshop. It is a true story revolving around the S.S. forging operation called “Operation Bernhard”.
|Adolf Burger (August Deihl)|
Sally’s friendship with Adolf Burger (August Diehl) complicates matters. Burger correctly deduces that “Operation Bernhard” is helping the Nazi war effort. If the Nazis win the war and they have helped, that is worse than surviving. He tries to convince Sally to sabotage the dollar effort. Sally does not completely come over to his view, but does delay the completion until it’s too late for Germany. With the Russians just down the road, the Nazis pull out, abandoning the camp. Sally catches Herzog trying to leave with thousands of dollars he has hidden. Sally beats him up, but lets him go – without the money.
“The Counterfeiters” is an admirably accurate film. Burger served as technical adviser on the film and was very hands-on.. “Operation Bernhard” is considered the largest counterfeiting operation in history. It was headed by Bernhard Kruger (Herzog in the film). Kruger was apparently a relatively benevolent Nazi as depicted in the film. (Striesow plays him as a yuppie who is more concerned with money than ideology.) He was not condemned for war crimes after the war and actually had several of the forgers testify on his behalf (although Burger insists he was a murderer). Obviously Burger’s character is true to life and so is Sorowitsch. The acting is outstanding, especially by Diehl and Markovics.
This is not your typical Holocaust movie. The Jews are treated much better than we are used to seeing and although there is always the threat of violence, it seldom materializes. Even the rebellious Burger does not face the consequences of his sabotaging. The movie is suspenseful and thought provoking with its theme of conscience versus survival, but it does not truly explore this theme. This is the rare case of an historical movie where I would argue it would have been better if it had veered from the facts for dramatic effect. The truth is that the forgers know that the Allies are going to win the war so they know perfecting the dollar will have no impact on who wins. For this reason, there is no real conflict between survival and helping the Nazis. They can delay the finished product, but they never have to make the ultimate decision whether to complete the project. The movie would have had a stronger punch if it had left this knowledge of Germany’s situation out and fully debated whether survival under these circumstances was justified.