The Counterfeiters


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This is the more-or-less true story of a Nazi counterfeiting ring which was intended to disrupt the economies of Britain and the USA by destabilizing their currencies with massive amounts of counterfeit money.  Salomon Smolinoff was a master forger, a career criminal notorious throughout Europe, who was in a German prison for various acts of fraud when WW2 began. During the war he was transferred to a concentration camp where he was made the team captain of more than a hundred inmates who were chosen for the skills necessary to produce vast quantities of perfect forged banknotes.

The film's fictional version of Smolinoff is called Sali Sorowitsch. Sali, true to his real-life counterpart, is such a perfectionist that he cannot understand why any of the other prisoners would undermine his efforts to duplicate the allied currency. The rest of the forgery team is torn by matters of conscience. On the one hand, they take pride in their work, and their project earns them a comfortable life away from the other prisoners, who are starving and abused. On the other hand, their success could prolong the war, and they are racked with guilt about the fact that some of their own families are among the prison's less fortunate inmates. The various sub-plots and complications include: (1) the relationship between Sali and the police inspector who arrested him before the war, and who is now a Nazi in charge of Sali's group in the concentration camp; (2) the relationship between the pragmatic Sali and conscience-torn Adolf Burger, a member of the forgery team who is deliberately trying to sabotage the group's efforts.

Despite Burger's pleadings, the team quickly manages to create perfect British currency and has just mastered US currency when the German guards abandon the camp because the allies are drawing near. With the Nazis gone, new issues come into focus. As the camp descends into chaos, how will the other inmates respond to the privileged forgers? Who will get the perfect forgeries after the war, and what will he do with them? 

The character of Adolf Burger is 100% historical, or at least it should be, since he was the man responsible for having created the story. His book, "The Devil's Workshop," was the basis for the screenplay. Although Burger is now 89 years old, he worked with the director as an advisor on the script, then traveled with the production to advise on the set. You can't assume that you know every last historical detail from having seen the film because the scriptwriter employed his dramatic license to make Burger's story more cinematic. This film is a self-contained story first, not a history lesson. Burger himself was amazed to see two sex scenes added to his story, but those are not the only fictional elements. The ultimate disposition of the counterfeits, for example, has been altered in order to effect a more intriguing post-war conclusion. In real life the bills created by the inmates, including some 134 million pounds sterling, are believed to have been sunk in Austria's Lake Toplitz, or at least that was the official story, but the film's script allowed some of the ersatz money to survive in order to provide additional character development for Sali. Although certain elements of Adolf Burger's story have been compacted and/or romanticized to cobble a more cinematic storyline, the vital core of the film's history is accurate. The essential facts and the actual moral conflicts have been retained intact.

You might expect a film about the Holocaust to be all doom and gloom, but this excellent film manages to add entertainment and excitement and even some comedy to the mix without trivializing the surrounding tragedy, because that's the way it really was. In the middle of a death camp, a guilt-ravaged Adolf Burger played ping-pong with SS officers while his fellow Jews starved to death a few hundred feet away.

And he lived to tell that story.

A ripping yarn!


* still awaiting Region 1 DVD info








It won the Oscar for the best picture in a foreign language. It was nominated for seven German Academy Awards, including Best Picture. (It won only one, for acting.)

3 The Guardian (of 5 stars)
3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
4 BBC  (of 5 stars)
94 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
78 (of 100)



7.7 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies



Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $47 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $30 million. It did nine million in its first five days, in 2400 theaters. (On the average, the studios get about 55% of box office receipts, the theater owners 45%.)



  • Dolores Chaplin showed one breast in a see-through undergarment.
  • Marie Baeumer showed her bottom twice.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


The proper grade is probably B if you speak German. Terrific film.