The Counterfeiters
Written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky

From the book "The Devil's Workshop" by Adolf Burger

Starring Karl Markovics


The Counterfeiters

"The Counterfeiters," the Austrian film that won this year's Academy Award as best foreign film, is a fascinating and true story (from a book by one of the group), of Jews in a Nazi concentration camp who are brought together by the Germans to use their talents, as printers, paper makers, engravers and others, to make counterfeit British pounds and American dollars. They were given adequate food, comfortable beds, a shower every week, and treated unlike the inmates just outside their bunk. The German plan was to flood each country with the counterfeit bills, upset their economies, and hopefully destroy their ability to fight.

What's fascinating about "The Counterfeiters" is that it doesn't focus on the man who wrote it, Adolf Burger - he was a fervent anti-Nazi and an unrepentant Communist as well and did his best to sabotage the whole process, regarding the sabotage as an act against the Nazis, even if it meant death for the whole group - but instead focusing on his opposite; a man, a Jew named Salomon Sorowitsch, played by Karl Markovics, who was a counterfeiter before the war, and, the film tells us, a great one with a brilliant reputation; he'd already had great success and even served a term in prison before the Nazi takeover. Markovics the actor is a hatchet-faced man with a stubble of a beard, and plays Sorowitsch as a man who's learned in prison never to speak unless spoken to, a man who takes great pride in his work and the fact that it can fool even the experts. All he wants is to do what the Nazis tell him, hoping that he won't get shot before the liberation.

This man, almost pathologically silent, is so compelling that we cannot take our eyes off of him. The ongoing battle between Sorovitsch and Burger becomes a life-and-death struggle between idealism and practicality; one leads to death - death with honor, you might say - the other may harm those who would rescue us but may leave us alive.

For the most part the film, written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, stays within the bunk and workshop that the men use. There is a prelude to the film, set in Monte Carlo just after the war, with Sorowitsch at the gaming tables throwing money around like confetti. Then the film goes back to 1936, when he is arrested as a counterfeiter by the Berlin detective who will become his Nazi keeper and protector. "The Counterfeiters" is a fascinating and moving piece of true but unrecorded history, with many echoes of David Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai," but with its own view of the moral dilemma that both men faced.