Among the films premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival was a German-language picture called Die Falscher – The Counterfeiter. It is based on the remarkable memoirs of Adolf Burger. Along with 140 other Jewish concentration camp prisoners, he survived the war after being enlisted to take part in an ambitious Nazi counterfeiting plot aimed at crashing the economies of the Allies.
“The only underground organisation in Slovakia in those days was the Communist Party. They recruited me to print counterfeit birth certificates or documents showing they had been Roman Catholics in 1938. I did that for three years before they arrested me and my wife on my 25th birthday, August 11 1942. We were planning a celebration, but that didn’t happen.”
A few days later they were sent on a Nazi transport to Auschwitz/Birkenau. Burger managed to avoid one mass execution, but was deliberately infected with typhus as part of a so-called medical experiment. At one point he weighed less than 40 kilos.
“He looked at me and said, are you Mr Burger? He called me, a prisoner, mister. I stuttered that I was. You’re a typographer? I said yes, I was. He stood and said, Mr Burger, tomorrow you go to Berlin. We need people like you, typographers, in a printing plant. You’ll work like a free man again. I couldn’t believe a word of what he said. Because at Birkenau there was an order NN – Nacht und Nebel, Night and Fog. That meant that whoever went to Birkenau could never leave.”
He was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin, where he and around 140 other Jews with similar skills worked in top secret conditions.
When Adolf Burger says the Nazis didn’t want him and his co-counterfeiters to die, he means in the short-term, before their work was complete.
“We 140 Jewish typographers were not meant to survive. We should have been liquidated. But things turned out differently. After we’d made 31 million pounds sterling they then wanted dollars. There was one Jew called Jakobson from Holland, my superior, so to speak. He said, if we print those dollars we’ll drag the war out. We have to sabotage it. But that’s easier said than done.”
Dollars were harder to counterfeit than pounds, and Burger and his co-prisoners did manage to drag out the process of successfully producing fake greenbacks. Until, that is, they were told to do so within six weeks or face a firing squad.
But by that time the Soviets were close to Berlin. Soon afterwards the counterfeiting group were abandoned in the Austrian Alps by their Nazi guards. They were free.Listen to the report:
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