This is the more-or-less true story of a Nazi counterfeiting ring which
was intended to disrupt the economies of Britain and the USA by destabilizing
their currencies with massive amounts of counterfeit money. Salomon
Smolinoff was a master forger, a career criminal notorious throughout Europe,
who was in a German prison for various acts of fraud when WW2 began. During
the war he was transferred to a concentration camp where he was made the team
captain of more than a hundred inmates who were chosen for the skills
necessary to produce vast quantities of perfect forged
The film's fictional version of Smolinoff is called Sali Sorowitsch. Sali, true to his
real-life counterpart, is such a perfectionist that he cannot understand why
any of the other prisoners would undermine his efforts to duplicate the allied
currency. The rest of the forgery team is torn by matters of conscience. On
the one hand, they take pride in their work, and their project earns them a
comfortable life away from the other prisoners, who are starving and abused.
On the other hand, their success could prolong the war, and they are racked
with guilt about the fact that some of their own families are among the
prison's less fortunate inmates. The various sub-plots and complications
include: (1) the relationship between Sali and the police inspector who
arrested him before the war, and who is now a Nazi in charge of Sali's group
in the concentration camp; (2) the relationship between the pragmatic Sali and
conscience-torn Adolf Burger, a member of the forgery team who is deliberately
trying to sabotage the group's efforts.
Despite Burger's pleadings, the team quickly manages to create perfect
British currency and has just mastered US currency when the German guards
abandon the camp because the allies are drawing near. With the Nazis gone, new
issues come into focus. As the camp descends into chaos, how will the other
inmates respond to the privileged forgers? Who will get the perfect forgeries
after the war, and what will he do with them?
The character of Adolf Burger is 100% historical, or at least it should be,
since he was the man
responsible for having created the story. His book, "The Devil's Workshop,"
was the basis for the screenplay. Although Burger is now 89 years old, he
worked with the director as an advisor on the script, then traveled with the
production to advise on the set. You can't assume that you know every
last historical detail from having seen the film because the scriptwriter employed
his dramatic license to make Burger's story more cinematic. This film is a
self-contained story first, not a history lesson. Burger himself was amazed to
see two sex scenes added to his story, but those are not the only fictional
elements. The ultimate disposition of the
counterfeits, for example, has been altered in order to effect a more intriguing post-war
conclusion. In real life the bills created by the inmates, including some 134
million pounds sterling, are believed to have been sunk in Austria's Lake Toplitz, or at least that was the official story, but the film's script
allowed some of the ersatz money to survive in order to provide additional
character development for Sali. Although certain elements of Adolf Burger's
story have been compacted and/or romanticized to cobble a more cinematic
storyline, the vital core of the film's history is accurate. The
essential facts and the actual moral conflicts have been retained intact.
You might expect a film about the Holocaust to be all doom and gloom, but
this excellent film manages to add entertainment and excitement and even some comedy to
the mix without trivializing the surrounding tragedy, because that's the way
it really was. In the middle of a death camp, a guilt-ravaged Adolf Burger
played ping-pong with SS officers while his fellow Jews starved to death a few
hundred feet away.
And he lived to tell that story.
A ripping yarn!