“The Counterfeiters” purports to tell the story of how Jews at Sachsenhausen concentration camp produced near-perfect forgeries of the British pound for the Nazis. But be forewarned: Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitsky’s 2008 Academy Award winner for best foreign film lacks a great deal of the drama inherent in the real-life story. That’s the word from veteran American journalist Lawrence Malkin, whose book “Krueger’s Men” (Back Bay Books) is widely regarded as the definitive nonfiction work on the saga. Originally published by Little, Brown and Company in 2006, the book was recently released in paperback, bearing a small sticker referring to “the true story that inspired the Oscar-winning movie.”
“To me, it’s barely a Holocaust story,” said Malkin of the counterfeiting saga. “It’s a story of survival and deception in wartime.”
Malkin rejected overtures by Ruzowitsky’s associates to use his book for the movie. One of his main objections is the film’s premise that the Jews in the counterfeiting operation debated sabotaging it.
“Ruzowitsky sets up a moral dilemma that never took place,” Malkin told the Forward. “He basically posited a situation in which these Jews were arguing among themselves about whether or not it was morally right to work for the Nazis. There is absolutely no evidence of this in anybody’s memoirs.”
Malkin said that Ruzowitsky’s film is “beautifully produced, wonderfully acted, but it’s totally false. It’s morally false.”
What is perhaps the greatest irony of the whole saga, which was left out of the Ruzowitsky film entirely, is that after the defeat of the Third Reich, large bundles of fake pounds ended up in the hands of the Jewish underground, which used the forged notes to buy equipment and to bring displaced persons to the Holy Land, among them Chaim Shurik, a Polish printer whose 20-page account of his counterfeiting days was written in Hebrew.
Another irony is that several of the Jews who worked on the counterfeiting project either sent affidavits or testified on behalf of Bernhard Krueger because they were treated relatively well while making the pounds. Krueger was not charged with committing war crimes.
By Jon Kalish
Wed. Jun 25, 2008