Just like Rene Zellweger tells Tom Cruise that he “had her at hello” in Jerry Maguire, the Counterfeiters had me at Nazi and Concentration Camp when I read the synopsis. I’ve always been fascinated by the European part of World War II, especially the Holocaust.
I didn’t even read past those buzz words, so I was surprised to find that it was based on a true story about concentration camp prisoners who are given preferential treatment due to their special abilities which will help the Reich counterfeit the British pound and the American dollar.
The winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008 tells the story of these prisoners who succeeded in counterfeiting £132 million in £5, £10 and £20 notes. Their delay in counterfeiting the dollar was pivotal. Had they not delayed, the Nazis might have been able to flood the American economy; thereby, possibly causing a very different outcome to WWII in Europe.
This isn’t your typical WWII Concentration Camp film. There are the obligatory references toward gassing and looting and all the other atrocious treatment of detainees, but the counterfeiters, whose peace time occupations ranged from banker to printing press operator to professional (i.e. criminal) counterfeiter, are treated relatively well. They are housed in their own little “ghetto” within the camp; they get regular meals, decent clothing and good beds.
When the camp is deserted by the Nazi leadership at the end of the war, the “regular” prisoners almost gun down these prisoners because they think they’re sympathizers. And some of the counterfeiters, including the printing press operator, would agree with them. Which led me to question what I would do if faced with this crisis? Would I have delayed and sabotaged the operation as some did do or wanted to do, knowing that it would most certainly lead to my death, or would I act out of fear and do what I was told?
In a time such as that, is it better to save your own skin or die for something in which you believe? I suppose it’s one of those situations in which you never quite know how you’ll react until your feet are placed squarely over the coals. I sincerely hope that I never have to find out just how hot a fire I can stand.