The Counterfeiters, to give the film its Anglicized title, is an intelligent, if a little too underplayed, drama based on one of the most audacious attempts at financial sabotage ever undertaken. The plan: for Nazi Germany to flood the British and American markets with fake currency, thus precipitating economic collapse in the Allied countries. The workforce carrying out this particular task comprised prisoners-of-war in the Sachsenhausen camp, one of whom, our protagonist Salomon Sorowitsch, a Jewish master counterfeiter, was rescued from certain death from the concentration camps. In Sachsenhausen they are kept in much better conditions than other prisoners-of-war as reward for their efforts to help the regime, though this puts them in a morally questionable position.
The film nicely presents us with Salomon’s dilemma, a somewhat Catch-22-like situation: successfully complete the forgery, and end up rendering his position redundant, which would inevitably result in his execution, or fail to complete the task, which would ultimately lead to a similar fate. Salomon is not the only one facing this ‘choice’: another of the counterfeiting team, Adolf Burger, has made his choice and repeatedly sabotages the operation in order to hinder the Nazi plan, much to Salomon’s distress. But does his motivation to succeed derive from a desire for self-preservation, or a blinkered desire to prove to himself that he can perform one of the greatest forgeries of all-time? We must remember that these men are still alive only because of the usefulness of their talents, yet application of these talents ultimately perpetuates the war machine which captured them in the first place.
The position of Salomon is paralleled with his one of his captors, SS Officer Friedrich Herzog, who shares a similar philosophy with him; that ultimately we are confined to act in our own self-interest, no matter what the consequences for others. In a dramatic sense, we are made to feel little sympathy for Sal, and idealistically side with Burger. Yet the film makes us aware that, while this is the choice the viewer has no heistation to make in the comfort of the cinema, in the real world many of us would take the easy option and appease our captors if it led to an easier, more comfortable life; this, the film argues, is precisely the kind of resignation to apparent inevitabilty that allowed the Nazi regime to maintain power over Germany in the 1930s and 40s.
The film handles its subject in a very unflashy non-melodramatic way, and it is not sentimental about the war as so often these sorts of films can be. This does, however, have the effect of making the film seem a little flat and unengaging; while the story is an interesting one, sometimes there is not enough there to sink one’s teeth into properly, and I felt a little underwhelmed by the end. However, this is nitpicking, and I would much rather a serious film like this was handled understatedly, rather than in the sickly over-sentimental way of films like The Shawshank Redemption. Die Fälscher is a film that succeeds in telling its story in an admirable and genuinely thought-provoking way.