Winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, The Counterfeiters retraces the true story of Adolf Burger, recounted in his memoir The Devil’s Workshop. A typographer by trade, he became one of a group of deportees forced to produce impeccable imitation bank notes in Sachsenhausen concentration camp with the intention of flooding the economies of both the U.K and the U.S. To succeed, would have enabled the Nazis to win the war, to fail, meant certain death. Was his ultimate act of sabotage brave or foolhardy?
Adolf Burger was born in north-eastern Slovakia in 1917. He started an apprenticeship as a typesetter at the age of fourteen. In August 1942, he was arrested with his wife Gizela and taken to Auschwitz, where Gizela later died. In 1944, Burger was selected to work on the Nazi’s top-secret Operation Bernhard project at the Sachsenhausen camp bear Berlin. He was eventually liberated by the US army on 6 May 1945. In July 2000, Burger was present when deep-ocean divers recovered watertight containers which the Nazis had sunk in Lake Toplitz during the final days of the war. The divers discovered a stash of notes which Burger had been responsible for forging, together with camp documents showing his name. Burger’s memoir The Devil’s Workshop was used as the basis for the Oscar-winning film The Counterfeiters. The book details his wartime experiences and the years following the war, including the recovery of faked notes and the hunt for the German officers who were involved in Operation Bernhard. Burger attended the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles in 2008 and still frequently travels to Germany, where he gives lectures to students about his wartime experience. He is one of the last surviving witnesses of the Nazi counterfeiting operation and now lives in Prague.Joanna Newman
Joanna Newman is Head of Higher Education at the British Library.