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The Counterfeiters
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on August 9, 2008
Operation Bernhard was a secret Nazi counterfeit scheme and one of the lesser-known events of WWII. A group of Jewish printers, engravers, graphic artists, and commercial photographers were rounded up and taken to Sachsenhausen where a counterfeiting factory was set up specifically to produce English Pound notes and later, US dollars, with the Nazi goal of flooding and destabilizing Britain's economy. The resulting notes were so expertly manufactured that Nazi spies had them validated by the Bank of England, which confirmed them as authentic. "The Counterfeiters" (Die Fälscher) is based on this true story.

The film opens in Monte Carlo after WWII. Salomon Sorowitsch (Sally) has a case filled with bank notes, which he carelessly spends at a posh hotel. The story flashes back to 1936 Berlin when Sally was a master forgerer and artist with a thriving underground business. He is captured by the Nazi police and taken to a hard labor camp where he cheats death by drawing portraits of SS officers. Five years later, he is moved to a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, where he is ordered to supervise the production of what amounted to £132M in counterfeit notes.

Sally is a realist and much as he is sickened by the Nazi's atrocities, he works hard at perfecting their product for no other purpose than self-preservation. "One adapts or dies," he says. The group is housed separately from other prisoners and is given sheets, soap, and clothing. Their participation, however, did not guarantee them their lives. To fully grasp the hopelessness, author Lawrence Malkin wrote in his book, "Krueger's Men," an account of this same story: "[The SS planned to keep the operation secret by killing them when the job was done. The prisoners worked with the knowledge that they were marked for death when they had finished their jobs.] From the start, they wondered whether they should stretch out their work and risk execution for sabotage, or perform efficiently and thus hasten their own deaths."

The cries and shots from beyond their barracks can be distinctly heard and the group still suffers occasional beatings and humiliations by the SS. A young idealist and printer, Adolf Burger, whose wife was killed in Auschwitz, incites the group to sabotage the counterfeiting operations, arguing that they are party to the financing of the Nazi war effort. Sally manages to abort Burger's plans, insisting that dying for a principle is worthless. Despite being a swindler, Sally protected his mates as best as he could and refused to betray anyone of them, going so far as to barter with his barracks commandant for medicine for a sick mate and lying to save another's life.

This story survived because Adolf Burger survived. He is 90 years old and still lectures about the Holocaust and Operation Bernhard in Prague, and served as consultant in the film. It does have an incredible level of authenticity to it. Karl Markovics as Sally was just superb. With very little outward emotion, he is able to project the nightmarish life in Sachsenhausen, where one mistake could mean the end of your life. He is clearly torn by his need to survive and the tragedies of his mates--Burger's wife and another's children killed by the Nazis--as well as the killings of prisoners beyond their barracks. His moments of grief are quite touching. The young August Diehl as Burger is excellent, too, and his idealistic stance was an effective contrast to Sally's pragmatism. Two very different men with divergent approaches, but both courageous and inspiring. When the story returns to Monte Carlo, Sally does something unexpected that's a fitting end to the story.

I really think it's a perfect film. There's not a single thing I can find fault with. It's a quality drama about the moral dilemmas prisoners grappled with when faced daily with the prospect of death, and how wrenching these choices were. It certainly deserved its Oscar as best Foreign Language Film in 2007.

DVD extras are: The Making of..., Interview with the director, Adolf Burger's Artifacts, and a Q&A with the director, all worth seeing as they provide an even deeper understanding of the true story of Operation Bernhard (named after the scheme's instigator, SS officer Bernhard Krueger). It's an excellent and compelling story and highly recommended.

(Language: German with English subtitles)
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VINE VOICEon August 9, 2008
There were seldom easy choices during The Holocaust. Survival meant everything, and those who did live past World War II had fascinating and harrowing stories to share. Such is the case of ladies' man and counterfeiter, Solomon Sarowitsch (Kal Makovics).

When an S.S. agent catches "Sally`s" fake U.S. dollars, he puts him in a concentration camp. Savvy and a gifted artist, he creates a flattering pencil portrait of an SS figure head. From there he gets a ticket to more bearable living conditions, including soft bunk-beds and livable food rations. He does more portraits, including an outside mural until an officer announces his deportation to another camp. Easily perturbed by the change in plans, he discovers the Nazis have bigger fish for him to fry.

At the new concentration camp, he encounters Holst (Martin Brambach), the officer who arrested him. The new camp still provides livable conditions including operatic music during work, but his new assignment is to create the most authentic counterfeit currency from the allies' side, making pounds and later dollars.

Always desperate and under pressure, Sally's collected spirit is at odds with communist co-worker, Burger (August Diehl), who insists they "sabotage" the operation, noting that replenished funds could help the Nazis win the war. No easy dilemma, dissention hits within the group as Sally tries to keep informants from squealing while keeping a young lascivious friend from being detected for his infectious tuberculosis. Pressured by Herzog (Devid Stricson), a less menacing SS officer and a key bargaining chip, Sally must decide if he must do what is practical to survive or bend to Burger who sees his plan as the only way to help all.

While the presentation of 'The Counterfeiters' is easily more tightly presented and creates more tangible Nazi tension than 'Black Book,' it's hard to say this Holocaust film has the same impact as some finer ones like `Au Revoir Les Enfants'. Not every Holocaust film has to be a `Schindler's List,' but this one manages to be highly engaging with immediate scenes, expert editing, and all around great performances. Best of all, 'The Counterfeiters' provides a great story and tells it well.

(An Oscar nominee for "Best Foreign film, 'The Counterfeiters' was directed with laudable finesse by Stefan Ruzowitzky.)

A J.P.'s Pick 4*'s = Very Good
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on May 11, 2016
This is one of the best German movie I have ever seen. Not mentioning Rainer Werner Fassbinder cause he is far from comparable. He is like a god of making movie so let's put him apart from being compared.

This movie is about this guy who is famous for forging fake money, passport, and checks of all kind.
The is a Jew born in Russia and during the Nazi period, the Nazi heppens to arrest him and put him in a camp for jews.
But the place where he was in was far from other jews. It was luxurious and full of plenty of stuff.
Although some of the nazi's treat them bad, the top officer who happens to be the one who arrested him treated him decently.

There he forged different kinds of moneys, checks to back up nazi for war budget. The German's are having hard time to having war and they did need money.

The movie was extremely well made.
The acting of Tim Breyvogei and all the others are so well done and even after the show, I still remembered their faces clearly. They were so lovable.
The young guy who end of being sick and died by nazi who shot him to kill, the guy who's wife is in Auschwitz, I think it was, wanted to conqure them and rull over the camp, and others.

And I shoul never forget about the beautiful exotic music by Hugo Díaz along with harmonica tunes it was just so great to hear.
Try this.


If you think this is just another movie like <Schendler's List>, you are totally wrong. This movie is far from it and in some way it is way better. The movie never pushed us to feel what they felt like Shendler's List did. You know Spielberg.

The director already made a lot of good movies by the time he made this one and you can feel it by watching this film.

There seems no weakness in this movie at all to me and that's why at the beginning this is one of the best German movie I've seen so far.

from [...]
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on July 24, 2014
******* NOTE: I try to avoid spoilers in the comments below *****

Before I saw this movie and read some historical background on it, I had never heard of Operation Bernhard, the Nazi plan to flood the Allied Countries with counterfeit pounds and dollars, and to establish a counterfeit production station in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, manned by prisoners, some of them Jews, who had skills in printing and counterfeiting. Based on a book by one of the counterfeiters, Adolf Burger, the movie focuses on Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a Jewish forger, who is arrested just before the World War 2 and imprisoned. He impresses his captors with his skill as an artist, so when Operation Bernhard is conceived, Sally is moved to Sachsenhausen and effectively put in charge of the counterfeiting operation.

The movie's interest is in Sally's moral consciousness. He's keeping himself alive -- and in relatively comfortable conditions -- but he's also helping keep his fellow prisoners alive. The counterfeiters all know that there is a whole other population in the camp who are treated with great cruelty and arbitrariness. But the counterfeiters also know that they are "helping" the Nazis, whose politics they despise, and to the extent that Operation Bernhard works, they could well be prolonging the war. So there's the makings of a moral dilemma here -- for if one sabotages or in any way slows down the counterfeiting production, one can claim to be fighting the good fight, but one might also be endangering the lives of the other counterfeiters if the Nazis become aware of the deliberate slowing-down. If one wants to be a martyr, that's one thing -- but who gets to decide that all your fellow-counterfeiters ought to be martyrs too? These moral and existential dilemmas are registered through Sally's relations with his fellow-prisoner Adolf Burger (August Diehl) and with the Camp Commandant, Herzog (Devid Striesow). The counterfeiters manage to produce all the Pounds Sterling the Nazis need, but the US dollar is a harder nut to crack -- and is one of the group sabotaging the effort and thus putting them all in jeopardy?

Markovics plays Sorowitsch as a man of few words and great alertness of mind, and while he is alive to the better chances of survival that his work makes possible, he has to decide how to relate on a human level with prisoners like Burger, who want to resist the Nazis at every turn and see themselves as principled, as well as with the Kommandant, Herzog. Interestingly Burger and Herzog are both much more verbal than Sorowitsch. They articulate their agendas -- and one wonders of Herzog, who has a lot to lose if Operation Bernhard doesn't succeed, whether one can believe him or not. He can seem humane and even sympathetic, but he's also running a camp in which "normal" prisoners are very cruelly treated and even killed. Sorowitsch is very guarded with these characters -- and, in fact, with everybody -- and one has to gauge his moral stance as much from what he does or doesn't do as from what he says. Markovics is superb in the role -- and he says so little that the viewer should check out the interview with him among the "special features," where he is articulate and cogent (in English!) about the role, its appeal for him, and his approach to acting in general.

Diehl and Striesow are equally compelling as Burger and Herzog respectively, and indeed the whole cast is splendid. The other prisoner/counterfeiters are presented without resort to stereotype, and their meeting near the end with the "normal" prisoners, with whom they have never been allowed to fraternize, is a tense and touching moment. The pictorial qualities are striking too -- the film has a not-too-polished look -- a documentary look? -- that fits the story well. It's tempting to compare this movie to "Schindler's List," and it's less sentimental and less back-and-white. The Kommandant is no obvious monster, although whether or not he is really conflicted about the treatment of the prisoners or merely pretending to be as a means of manipulation is an open question.

The "framing" device has Sorowitsch bringing a boatload of money (forged) to Monte Carlo, where on his first night his gambling prowess impresses a lovely young woman, who in bed notices the tattoo on his arm. Switch to the story of life in the camps. At the end, we're back in Monte Carlo, the day after that shown at the movie's beginning -- the ending is surprising, and right.
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on May 27, 2008
"The Counterfeiters" is a deliberately-paced, affecting personal drama about how thorny ethical dilemmas are in real life, and won a deserved Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars in 2008. The main character is Salomon Sorowitsch, a Russian Jew who is arrested for counterfeiting in 1939 and sent to a concentration camp. His artistic skill is quickly picked up, however, and he is eventually used in a counterfeiting operation known as Operation Bernhard, a plan to de-stabilize the British economy by flooding it with counterfeit currency. Since Sorowitsch is such a master at counterfeiting, he is able to pull off a perfect re-production of Bank of England notes that pass the inspection of even the highest inspectors. So the SS now turn their counterfeiting operation to the Dollar. Another inmate involved in the counterfeiting operation, Adolf Burger, realizes that they are effectively financing the Nazi war effort, and believes that a massive printing of counterfeit dollars could make a serious difference in the war. Burger begins destroying the negatives, and wants Sorowitsch to sabatoge the whole operation. This puts Sorowitsch in a dilemma- if the Nazis find out about the sabatoge, then all the counterfeiting inmates, who enjoy a comparatively privileged and comfortable life, will be sent to the death camps. If they continue with the operation, they will help the Nazis.

Which is more important- ensuring your own survival, or fighting for a just cause at the possible cost of your life? "The Counterfeiters" shows that such a dilemma is very difficult to resolve in one's day-to-day struggles, especially when great duress and oppression is present. The moral complexity of the movie is stunning. Whether the counterfeiters delaying tactics were what led to the Nazis' downfall or not, they did a very brave thing, and this movie does a great service in bringing their story to the public.
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on May 10, 2011
"The Counterfeiters" is a German historical-fiction film about Operation Bernhard, a secret operation conducted by the Nazi's during the latter years of World War II in which a team of concentration camp inmates counterfeit large sums of British money in order to fuel the Nazi war effort. The film follows the main character Solomon "Sally" Sorowitsch, a master counterfeiter, who is arrested by the Nazi's and eventually sent to the Sachsenhausen ("Saxon-house/place") concentration camp take part in Operation Bernhard. As essentially the prisoner-leader of the Operation, Sally must juggle the strict demands of his Nazi wardens with the determination of a few of his fellow prisoners' attempts to sabotage the Nazi war machine, as well as with the duty he owes to his fellow innocent prisoners to keep the Operation running smoothly and hence keep his mates alive. The result is a story engulfed in a sticky moral dilemma that ends (just in time) with the end of the war and the liberation of the concentration camp.

In my opinion "The Counterfeiters" is in between being a good film and a bad film. I thought that there were unnecessary scenes of sexuality and violence; and hence I thought that the film would have been essentially the same without these few scenes. For example, when Sally watches his friend Kolya get shot by a Nazi guard, we (the viewer) see Sally looking through a small window, then the film switches cameras and we see Kolya get shot through the head. Instead of this unnecessary five-second scene of disgusting violence whereby we see the bullet take a piece of flesh out of Kolya's head, I think that the camera should have stayed focused on Sally-looking-through-the-window since the result would still be the same: Kolya is brutally murdered. Instead, the camera switches to let the viewer watch the gruesome scene. Because of this (and several other similar scenes) I thought that "The Counterfeiters" was trying too hard to shock the viewer with violence that the viewer knows is simply un-real. Overall, the effect of this violence-saturation was to turn the film into something like a comic book or a wanna-be Schindler's List.

But I digress. I thought that the acting was merely OK as well. The main character seems to have only one facial expression throughout the film, and many of the other characters seem two-dimensional. Also, the soundtrack was strange: a mix of Latin American rhythms seemed to give the film a fake-ish feel. Also, I was somewhat morally confused when the main saboteur (Adolf Burger, played by August Diehl) is hailed as a hero by the concentration camp Jews after they had liberated the camp (after the Germans high-tailed): Burger (whose memoir, I learned from Wikipedia, served as the genesis of the screenplay), through his sabotage activities threatened the lives of the entire counterfeiting team. Perhaps he is shown as a hero because his sabotage slowed down the counterfeiting process, and hence hastened the end of the Third Reich, but I have trouble accepting this (heroism) because Burger had no idea that Sally had the power to prevent the sabotage (i.e. besides snitching on Burger)... But I digress again...

Broadly speaking, I think that we must take films like "The Counterfeiters" with a grain of salt, for this film is essentially a success story, while the Holocaust is most definitely not: it was, without a doubt, part of the worst series of events in modern history. While it may be human nature to look for and to find success stories and "heroes" in the history of the Holocaust, I think that often such stories serve to reduce the complexity of history, and far to often this is exactly what the casual movie-goer gets, which is to say, excitement and gratification.
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on May 13, 2011
Incredible dramatic story of Salomon 'Salli' Smolianoff, once known as Europe's 'King Of The Counterfeiters'. (I believe due to legal reasons with his estate, he's renamed Salomon Sorowitsch for the film)

Described by Adolf Burger, writer of novel the movie is based on, as a disreputable character whose shallow and selfish desire for pleasure far outweighed any other concerns in life. Even in the face of a rising fascist state which seemed hellbent on the eradication of his people, Salli continued to party. His planned escape thwarted by shortsighted self-indulgence, he was captured by a Nazi SS team and sent to the concentration camps in 1939.

Like other biopics, there's some question as to the legitimacy describing Sorowitsch/Smolianoff's life. The author Adolf Burger, and fellow Operation Bernhard counterfeiter, met one another in Sachsenhausen concentration camp nearly five years after Salli was captured and did not know the man prior to the camps. However, I'm willing to give credence to his account since Smolianoff did not dispute them; although it's equally possible that he did not know (living in faraway Brazil) or did not care.

Regardless, the events in the camp are unquestionably accurate and have been documented by both allied forces who liberated the camp and the small handful of survivors. Suffice to say - the history of Sachsenhausen is beyond all horrific imaginings; the deviant sadists in charge of the camps were unspeakable devils.

Cast into this nightmare, Sorowitsch displayed a cunning ability to manipulate the situation to the best of his limited advantage. So that, even in the various hellholes he was transferred to, he was able to work his way to a generally sheltered existence; away from the horrors that took place every day and night outside the safe zones for the specially skilled. First as a portrait artist, then creating propaganda images for various camps, finally transferred to Sachsenhausen - specifically to oversee and supervise the top secret counterfeiting project known as Operation Bernhard.

Brilliantly performed by Austrian actor Karl Markovics, who delivers a delicate contradiction between an overwhelmingly self-interested heel, cast against stunning acts of personal bravery and sacrifice for his fellow prisoners. As a viewer you never find a strong enough box to pigeon-hole Sorowitsch - sharing qualities of both creep and hero. Like water, he's a fluid dynamic, breeching the smallest of advantageous openings or letting himself flow around the worst of calamities. Sorowitsch is very human and that makes his portrayal so much more real and compelling.

A profoundly stellar performance in an unforgettable film.

Note: The British Pound Notes that the counterfeiters created were so good, that beginning in 1957 the UK actually had to completely abandon the design, stock, and method of production for their paper money. So perfect were the forgeries that it had threatened to destabilize the British economy more than a decade after the war had officially ended. And it wasn't until a stunning 1981, when the recall of war-era £50 notes was enacted, that Operation Bernhard finally came to an end.
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Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) deserves its Oscar as the Best Foreign Film of 2007. Based on a true story and singed with horrifying details of the Nazi treatment of 'detainees' (primarily Jews) during WW II, the inner story of this film is one of resilience and survival against near impossible odds and how one man turned his criminal gifts into a system so impressive that he served as a 'provider' of funds to the financially depleted Third Reich war effort. The story is in itself fascinating enough to hold our interest for the duration of the film, but it is the incredibly ingenious and wily character of Salomon 'Sally' Sorowitsch that burns a space in our minds of how one man survived the concentration camps and in his own way helped fellow Jews to likewise survive the Holocaust.

Salomon 'Sally' Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) is a brilliant counterfeiter, a Russian Jew so gifted in his ability to forge documents such as passports that he is able to live the 'good life' - money, women, gambling, etc. - until he is arrested by the Nazis and placed in a detention camp Sachsenhausen north of Berlin. His facile mind sees his possible extermination and leads him to make a deal with the Nazis to spare his life (and the lives of his elected doomed accomplices) in return for making counterfeit money (British pounds) so desperately needed to fill the coffers of the dwindling Nazi resources. He and his confreres are afforded comfortable living space, good foods, and other amenities in a special sector of the concentration camp, a place where they can spend their time turning out volumes of money for the Nazis. In this way many of these 'selected' men manage to stay alive until the war is over, but the 'hero' character of Sally Sorowitsch remains an enigma of sorts: his cunning ideas are basically self centered and his focus remains on his own survival and ultimate gratification of yet another successful counterfeit business. In other words, his story leaves a feeling of uneasiness with the viewer - is this a survivor to admire or is this a 'player' whose sense of compassion is marred by his own selfish goals? The viewer is left to decide.

Though Karl Markovics is very strong in the leading role, the supporting cast of some of Germany's finest actors brings a depth of humanity and perception to the major issue the film addresses - both death and survival in the onerous concentration camps of the Nazis. Director/screenwriter Stefan Ruzowitzky deserves kudos for the manner in which he shows both sides of the seminal situation. His cinematographer Benedict Neuenfels manages to capture the lurid light of the confined men and makes the intolerable almost tolerable to watch: the haunting musical score by Marius Ruhland completes the atmosphere. This is a powerful movie on every level, but it is a very disturbing film in many ways. It will make the viewer think - and that is most definitely a strong point of this film. In German with English subtitles. Grady Harp, August 08
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on March 11, 2008
Oscar-winning (Best Foreign Language Film) "The Counterfeiters" is inspired by true events during World War II. Some of the main characters of the Austrian/German film are based on real persons and one of them Adolf Burger, a Slovak typographer, wrote a memoir "The Devil's Workshop" which became the basis of the film. Burger's book is about "Operation Bernhard," Nazi's secret plans of forging English and American currency. Against the background of one of the largest counterfeiting schemes in history, Director Stefan Ruzowitzky (best known for his medical suspense "Anatomy" starring Franka Potente) has successfully created a tense thriller with powerful moments.

The film centers on Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), forger of documents. After being arrested in pre-war Berlin, a Russian Jew Solomon Sorowitsch is sent to a concentration camp. We discover though Salomon is not a heroic figure, he is clever. He learns to survive the horrible conditions of life there by drawing portraits of Nazi officers.

But more drastic change awaits him when he is later put in charge of one secret mission conducted by Nazis code-named "Operation Bernhard" - Salomon and other inmates (mostly Jewish prisoners) are confined in an inner section at Sachsenhausen concentration camp and are ordered to forge British bank notes.

One thing is certain. They must succeed. They also know Nazi officers would not wait long. But to succeed means to prolong the war and some of the fellow counterfeiters are aware of that too. This is where Adolf Burger (brilliant August Diehl) steps in, insisting on sabotage even though the delay could mean their death.

"The Counterfeiters" is not only a gripping thriller; it also poses some questions about what we would and should do in most extreme situation. I only add that in his interview Adolf Burger said (he visited Japan in November 2007) that the episodes about the inmates playing ping pong and singing songs before the Nazi officers are both true.

Perhaps this moral dilemma of Salomon represented by Salomon and Adolf could have been explored more. Some scenes of the film are obviously the results of fictionalizing process on the side of filmmakers who wanted more dramatic moments. The film is certainly flawed, but, supported by unanimously great acting (Karl Markovics as Salomon Sorowitsch is stunning), "The Counterfeiters" is a gripping and fascinating thriller and drama.
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on June 28, 2017
Such a good film. Highly Recommend
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