I saw an extraordinary movie last night: "The Counterfeiters," an Austrian-German movie ("Die Fälscher") about Operation Bernhard, the Nazis' mad plan to destroy the UK economy by flooding it with counterfeit British pounds, and fund the war operation with counterfeit US dollars. The SS Major responsible for the program recruited printers, bankers and counterfeiters from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and from inmates at Auschwitz.
The film tells the story of Sally Sorowitsch, a master counterfeiter who is imprisoned at the start of the war, and who curries favor in Auschwitz with his painting and drawing. Sorowitsch is rescued from Auschwitz and sent to run Operation Bernhard, amid captive bankers, artists and printers from Germany and Russia. Sorowitsch is a likable anti-hero, honorable but self-interested, the perfect pivot for the story to revolve around.
The Counterfeiters is an emotionally complex — and often horrifying — film about the prisoners' dilemma (literally and figuratively). A superbly acted and scripted cast of characters play out their intense moral conundrums: supporting the Nazis by printing currency for them; saving their lives while outside their compounds others are dying; and other situations in which solidarity and self interest lock horns, with no easy answers.
Ultimately, The Counterfeiters is a story about the way that fascism takes hold — the way that Naziism was only made possible by all people being, in some small way, complicit; by choosing to save themselves instead of refusing to allow scapegoating, fear and war to rise.
The audience was rapt through the film, gasping and groaning in unison at some times, while at others, you could have heard a pin drop. I don't remember the last time I was that engrossed in a movie.