Wednesday, December 23, 2009
A concentration camp survivor named Adolf Burger wrote a memoir about a secret Nazi initiative called Operation Bernhard in which they planned to destabilize the economy of the United Kingdom by flooding world markets with counterfeit British Pounds. Burger would know. He was a typographer who assisted in the operation. Director Stefan Ruzowitsky worked with Burger to adapt his novel to film, resulting in The Counterfeiters.
The Counterfeiters creates a fictional character named Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Karl Marcovics) who is busted by Berlin Police for trying to counterfeit the U.S. Dollar. Sally ends up doing time, but quickly realizes jail has become more brutal...but the basic rules still apply. It seems Sally may be no stranger to prison life. Sally quickly figures out a scheme to survive, by endearing himself to his captors by drawing murals, portraits and propaganda drawings. Sally is abruptly transferred to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where he is greeted by the head of the counterfeit operation, Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow), the very detective that arrested him in Berlin.
The prisoners who are involved in Operation Bernhard are treated better than others in the camps. The brutality that goes on just beyond the thin walls is not lost on the prisoners, who must balance the concept of survival against the harsh realities that their operation might be funding the Nazi war effort and could prolong the war and increase the suffering. Burger (August Diehl) sabotages the work, prolonging production of the Dollar as long as possible. His actions risk the lives of the men he works with as they all struggle to strike a balance between survival and morality.
This fictionalized accounting of Operation Bernhard was created in close cooperation with Adolf Burger. Although fictional, it maintains a strong connection to the events that inspired it. Because of the quandry that the prisoners find themselves in, the story is able to bring out the best and worst in people, allowing for an excellent character study. It also shows the strange characteristics that can emerge, even in a setting as seemingly faceless as a concentration camp. In other camp-based movies, it seems that the other characters (other than the lead) become a faceless mass. In The Counterfeiters we learn about many of the characters and their own traits and flaws. One former banker detests Sally's arrival, looking down on him as a common criminal. His indignant reaction in the midst of a concentration camp is laughable. It shows the capacity of humans to close out the reality of the world around them and focus on the microcosm of their daily routine. The characters were well developed and were provided with credible dialogue that propels the film to the upper tier of my favorite World War II films.
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