The Counterfeiters is is based on the true story of master forger Salomon Sorowitsch through his jailed journey, and the muted tone holocaust, who was forced into the Nazi counterfeiting machine in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, gript with a very breath-taking reality. “Die Falscher” is the original title in Austrian/German language. It’s loosely based on the book The Devil’s Workshop, by real-life Bernhard-survivor Adolf Burger, set during the Nazi’s reign of terror over Western Europe.
The Counterfeiters is the winner of the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the first Austrian film to do so. This movie also appeared as the critics’ choice and one of the best films the same year. Made in 2007- Stefan Ruzowitzky’s tale is enthralling because of the featured content and sensibilities are so rich in dramatic potential, exciting the viewers for a stealthy & clandestine scheme by the group of contrasting people in the concentration camp bracing up the German war effort.
The Counterfeiters is the depiction of Operation Bernhard, the Nazi plot to forge British and American currency during World War II, to destabilize the British currency by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England pound notes. This is supposed to be the biggest counterfeit money scam of all time. Over 130 million pounds sterling were printed, under conditions that couldn’t have been more tragic or spectacular. During the last years of the war as the German Reich saw that the end of the war was near the authorities decided to produce their own banknotes in the currencies of their major war enemies.
The movie has its brilliant narrative, begins soon after World War ll, to the city of Monte Carlo, with a German checking into a luxurious hotel. Before long, takes to the high streets of casino, gambling and courtesies of beautiful French woman all over the place accompanying him. One of those women discovers tattooed ciphers on his arm, revealing him as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps.
The narrative than shifts to 1936 Berlin, here’s a playboy, typographer turned counterfeiter, played by Austrian actor Karl Markovics. Salomon ‘Sally’ Sorowitsch, considered both a Jew and habitual criminal by the Nazis, until his luck runs out when he is caught by the SS, eventually finds himself in the labour camp and then to Mauthausen concentration camp. His struggles to shelter and meagre comforts at the camp, induces him to forge painting and invariably drawing guards in impending orders to paint their pictures of individuals and families in exchange for extra food rations.
Behind the rip-off attractiveness and his flair of reputation, he gains huge attention among German soldiers and then is transported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp with a number of other prisoners whose pre-war activities’ expanse from the criminal to art, printing and banking. His ingenuity and skills put him in charge of a forging team which is run by his captive officer, Friedrich Hertzog (Devid Striesow). He gets to their commands through his way using the fellow Jewish prisoners in the special section devoted to forgery.
The lives of counterfeiters are moderately better than others in the cell to a certain degree of comfort. However each one of the prisoners through their different stories and backgrounds from political agitators to communists to financial experts undergo the viciousness and adversities with constant abuses and brutalities at the hands of the prison guards. The prisoners still drudge on perfecting their forgeries, which opens the door for numerous internal conflicts. Adolf Burger, an activist imprisoned for printing anti-Nazi leaflets, surreptitiously disrupts the efforts of the team and challenges for the confrontation. His position creates the stand-off and comes into the conflict with Sorowitsch, who desires to complete the project.
Sorowitsch sees the work as a means to survive after counterfeiting the pounds, but also seeks to complete the dollar out of some deep-seated criminal ambition to do what has never been done. Increasingly, the indication of Germans losing the war come insight of the prison walls and thus the day comes of broadcast to abrupt the print works and dismantle. This leads the fear among counterfeiters and the German guards flee the camp in advance of the Red Army. Sorowitsch, though a criminal, lives by a code, and in the end works to finish his assignment and protect his comrades.
Herzog, though officially a member of the SS, deeply admires Sorowitsch and privately admits to him that he is a Nazi in name only and bares no ill-will toward the Jews. The contrast of Herzog is further revealed in a surreal scene in which he invites Sorowitsch to his palatial home to meet his picture-perfect wife and children. In a strange hitherto candid scene, the three adults sit is Herzog’s parlour drinking tea. Mrs. Herzog is clearly exhilarated at the notion of having a real, live Jew and habitual criminal sitting in her home
There is another important scene which come to my mind, when one of the forgers commits suicide soon after the war ends and the camp is about to be liberated. He does so because he knows that his children are already dead, and therefore he has nothing else to live for. When his body is found, another forger calls the dead man an idiot and runs off stating the others to forget it happened. Sorowitsch does honour the man and is profoundly touching. The movie also shows how these few, cope with the surprise of being treated differently, their culpabilities, their rationalization, their pragmatism and above all the will to live and The Counterfeiters depicts beautifully the resolute view of the characters interests and conflicts. Though the movie does not dive heavily into the details of the counterfeiting and art of imitating process, it passionately bears the souls of the prisoners who struggle with tremendous issues of guilt and also their treatment to good food, showers, civilian clothes, sheets and real beds as their colleagues in the rest of the Sachsenhausen camp are systematically murdered.
In the end, the film returns to the place it began at Monte Carlo where Salomon “Sally” Sorowitsch, who is a fascinating character study in his own right, seemingly appalled by the life he is now leading on the forged currency intentionally gambles it all away. In his own sedentary and forlorn on the beach, he is joined by the gorgeous French woman worried after his devastating losses at the casino. Both of them, dancing slowly together on the beach and gives her comfort arm and back to rest, to which he replies smiling “that we can always make more” in a more philosophical and consequent message of renewal and hope!
Director Ruzowitzky talks about the historical source and inspiration to choose Burger’s story, analogous to the holocaust theme. Viz. Schindler’s List; The Pianist; Freedom Writers; The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and so on
“For a present-day audience, an angry ‘That’s how it was!’ is no longer enough. We have to talk about the Holocaust and so have a moral obligation to do so in a way that reaches as many viewers as possible. So, yes, a film about the Holocaust should be exciting as well as entertaining, in the best sense of the word. And The Counterfeiters is also an entertaining film. But I would like to say that I would never have dared to depict the everyday horror of a ‘normal’ concentration camp.”