Die Fälscher (2007). Dir. Stefan Ruzowitzky
Atze (Veit Stübner): “Warum ist Gott nicht in Auschwitz? Der kam nicht durch die Selektion!“
Die Fälscher is one of my favorite movies about the Holocaust. It’s an Austrian film where the German pigs bark in German (not English) and the victims speak, cry and pray in German, Russian, and Hebrew (not English). I think it’s really a pity when Holocaust movies are not made in their original language, no matter how good the movie is. That goes for Schindler’s List and many others (the only exception is probably The Pianist, an excellent film that if it were in Polish and German would be a real masterpiece).
In Die Fälscher one can really breath the brutality of the small Nazi concentration camps (there are no extermination camps shown here). Viktor Frankl wrote that in the ordinary small concentration camps most of the extermination took place. In Die Fälscher we see a German pig kicking to death a prisoner in Buchenwald and we see how little life was worth in Sachsenhausen (you could be shot any time and for no reason). The elegant and cultivated Germans could kill and torture as much as they felt like.
The film focuses on the biggest con operation of the entire history: Operation Bernhard. Operation Bernhard managed to counterfeit more than 134 million British pounds and some American dollars. Created in 1942 by the Germans and developed in Sachsenhausen’s Blocks 18 and 19 by 142 Jewish prisoners who were forced to forge millions, Operation Bernhard could have given a dramatic turn to the war. The Germans counterfeited not only British pounds and American dollars, but also many passports, identity cards, birth and marriage certificates, other official documents, and stamps. The Germans were not only cruel and monstrous (we know that they loved to gas men, women, and children, and that they enjoyed massacring people and burning babies alive), but they were also great thieves (they stole many Aryan-looking Polish children –after having killed their parents, of course–) and they were also the greatest common criminals: they organized the biggest con operation of all times (but, luckily, too late). The Germans possessed all of the disgusting and lowest attributes that a human can have: antisemitism, racism, violence, cruelty, and dishonesty. And all that beautiful pack came from one of the most cultivated countries of the entire world. Yes, the Germans, with their amazing philosophy, their amazing poetry, their amazing music and their amazing art produced the most horrific monstrosity of human history: the Holocaust.
Die Fälscher is loosely based on the memoirs of Adolf Burger, originally written in Czech (Komando padělatelů) and first published in 1983. The translation into English was published only 26 years later (in 2009) under the title The Devil’s Workshop: A Memoir of the Nazi Counterfeiting Operation (I didn’t read the book, but I just ordered it). Burger was a Jewish Slovak typographer and Holocaust survivor born in 1917. He was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau together with his wife when he was 25 years old, in 1942. At that time he was making fake baptism certificates to save Jews. In Auschwitz-Birkenau he was tattooed with the number 64401. His wife perished in Auschwitz that year. He survived 18 months in Auschwitz-Birkenau and was then transferred to Sachsenhausen (April 1944) to work in Operation Bernhard. In 1945 he was transferred to the Ebensee concentration camp (a camp within the Mauthausen network) until its liberation by the US Army on May 6, 1945 (that isn’t shown in the movie). Burger died 10 months ago in Prague, age 99 (yes, 99!), in December 2016.
The casting of the film is superb. Karl Markovics (who portrays Sorowitsch, a character based on the real Salomon Smolianoff, an Ukrainian Jewish professional counterfeiter who died in Brazil at age 76) gives an outstanding performance. I really love this actor. He’s amazing. August Diehl (the famous SS whom Fassbender blew his balls off in Inglourious Basterds) plays the real Burger. His performance is stunning. Sebastian Urzendowsky plays Kolya, a young Russian painter also involved in Operation Bernhard. His performance is breathtaking (Urzendowsky gave an impressive performance too in the German film Berlin’36). Devid Striesow plays Herzog, to my taste a too nice and soft character. Herzog is based on the real Bernhard Krüger, a murderous SS who led Operation Bernhard (the operation was named after him). As the vast majority of German and Austrian murderers, Krüger got off scot-free (after a brief period of detention) and died peacefully in Germany at age 84. Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter (Dolores Chaplin) makes a small appearance in the film.
The tango music of the film (written by Marius Ruhland) is truly amazing. The details of the film are really painful and really well made: the apple, the bloody hands, the second hand clothing, the touching of the clean bed sheets, the reaction of Kolya at the beginning of the shower, the huge humiliation in the toilet, the walking-corps after the liberation of Sachsenhausen…
I am currently working on my Phd in Philosophy. My thesis is about Sartre and Viktor Frankl and their different existential approaches to religion, and about the death of God after Auschwitz. In Die Fälscher I have found one of the best explanations to the absence of God while millions of innocent men, women, and children were being massacred. It is a cruel joke that one of the inmates tells laughing to the other inmates. He says: “Why isn’t God in Auschwitz? Because he did not pass the selection” [“Warum ist Gott nicht in Auschwitz? Der kam nicht durch die Selektion!“].
Around 134 million counterfeit British pounds were produced at Sachsenhausen. In 1945 Operation Bernhard moved to Mauthausen. In 1959 some of the boxes with counterfeit British pounds were discovered at the bottom of Lake Toplitz (in the Austrian Alps), and in 2000 the same company who discovered the Titanic pull out from the lake many boxes with counterfeit British pounds and some counterfeit American dollars.
Die Fälscher won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language (Austria). After it won the Oscar, Burger said that he felt happy because now more people would see the movie and will know that the Germans were not just murderers but also common criminals.
The worst: some small factual errors.
The best: everything else.
Some articles and news about Operation Bernhard:
Shifting from Wartime to Peacetime Intelligence Operations (The CIA Library)
Counterf-Hitler: Examples from the £134million in dodgy bank notes Adolf hoped would ruin the British economy expected to fetch £2,000 at auction
Nazi fake banknote ‘part of plan to ruin British economy’
Los Angeles Times: Adolf Burger, World War II prisoner forced by Nazis to forge millions in fake money, dies at 99
Antonia Tejeda Barros, Madrid, October 11, 2017