The Counterfeiter


The Counterfeiter
With Adolf Burger, Chair: Joanna Newman

This event took place on 22nd February 2009

Posted by Lana Citron

The Devil's workshop

The Devil's workshop

Firstly, I am struck by his beauty. Adolf Burger looks as if he could be Roman Polanski’s father. He is very beautiful, speaks clearly, passionately, with verve, vigour and at 91 years of age I am in awe, not only of what he has overcome in his life but of how he is.

His story began in Bratislava with the production of blank birth certificates, which he printed at the behest of some communists, as an act of sabotage against the ensuing war. His signature copied hundreds of times on these false certs lead to his subsequent arrest. Indeed, his, is a very distinct signature. The 2nd loop of the B fails to meet its end point and juts back as a line, above which stands his neat ‘A’, (for Adolph) and the tail of his ‘g’ is not curvy but instead forms a sort of triangle.

For those of you who do not know who Adolph Burger is, I would urge you to buy his book, ‘The Devils Workshop’. His story is quite incredible. Born in Slovakia in 1917 and arrested at the age of 25, he survived Auschwitz and was sent to Sachsenhausen where he worked as part of Operation Bernhard, a counterfeiting organisation run by the Nazi’s, aimed at toppling the British and US economies, by flooding both with forged bank notes. It is estimated £132 million pounds, (3 billion in today’s value), worth of English bank notes were produced and remained in circulation until the 1960’s. It is also claimed that £130 million of these notes were used to help establish the state of Israel. Burger’s memoir formed the basis of the film, ‘The Counterfeiter’, awarded best foreign film at the 2008, Oscars.

One can, in the time allotted to each JBW session, learn only so much and with respect to Burger, there is so much to learn. Asked if he was scared or terrified in Auschwitz, Burger replied he was hungry. Hunger was the foremost feeling recalled. Surviving on 300 grams of bread a day, his job at the camp was to empty the suitcases that arrived daily, which he said always contained food. He left Auschwitz weighing a mere 35 kilos.

Determined to survive he successfully devised a way to swap his yellow star for a triangle. A mere swatch of material could and did determine one’s destiny. His own lead him to Sachsenhausen. Today he is one of two remaining from the original counterfeiting team. Asked what he did when he was liberated, his response was that he ran to a house to ask for a camera, then returned to the camp to take pictures, to bear witness to the atrocities perpetrated. In the post war years, it has been precisely this reason that has made sense of his own survival. A couple of weeks after liberation, Burger were put on a bus to Prague where he has remained to this day.

Lana Citron

Lana Citron

Posted by Lana Citron, author of five novels; Sucker, Spilt Milk, Transit, The Honey Trap and The Brodsky Touch, Lana Citron has also appeared on TV,  theatre, film and performed as a stand-up comic.


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