Last night, I went with a friend to see the movie "The Counterfeiters." I highly recommend this movie, but I will caution any prospective viewer that it is not for the faint of heart. The movie reprises the story (previously unknown to me) about the Nazi efforts to destabilize the British economy during World War II by counterfeiting the British pound.
Code named Operation Bernhard, this effort on the part of the Nazis might well have contributed to propping up the German war effort. One of the critical conflicts in the movie is between two counterfeiters. Since they were all Jews, and therefore at risk of being exterminated in the death camps, one of the counterfeiters, the lead character named Saloman, keeps adhering to the personal credo--better to counterfeit and live than resist and die. Another character, Burger, feels conflicted by their work. He believes they should resist. The tension frequently breaks out into violence among the counterfeiters--fighting each other.
Image of forged five pound note from http://www.psywar.org/psywar/images/forgedfiver.jpg
There are two very poignant scenes in the movie. In one, one of the counterfeiters tries to assert his moral superiority because he says he was a banker before the war--not a counterfeiter. The irony is so thick in his statement.
In the second scene, the lead counterfeiter--Saloman (nick-named Sally and who had been a counterfeiter before the war) has asked for real documents to use in forging--for example, passports so the covers will be authentic. When the group gets a packet of real documents, one of the counterfeiters breaks down when he sees his own children's passports in a batch that were shipped from Auschwitz.
The counterfeiting operation was set up in the Nazi camp of Sachsenhausen. This is the camp that had the infamous gates with the slogan Arbeit Macht Frei--work makes free. In the case of the counterfeiters, even though their fate was to be death, the slogan was prophetic. For reasons not shown in the movie, they did all survive.
If you want a challenging movie that once again explores the theme of doing something "bad" with a good outcome--survival--see "The Counterfeiters." I found myself making mental comparisons to another recent movie that explores a very similar theme--"The Black Book" or "Zwartboek."
While the focus of the movie is clearly on the Jews in the horrific circumstances of the Nazi death camps, there are scenes that explore the actions of the Germans. I couldn't help but think once again of the question that haunts me--would I be so easily swayed to turn into the mindless majority as did the Germans during the Nazi era? There is no easy answer to such a question. The events of the current U.S. war in Iraq bring home to us the fact that seemingly good people can be too easily swayed by events and presumed authority.