UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Counterfeiters

Austrian Holocaust film pits moral courage against survival

By David Wilson

The Counterfeiters
Austria: German with subtitles
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, starring Karl Markovics and August Diehl
(Magnolia Filmproduktion)


How far would you go to save your own life? That is the unspoken question posed to audiences in this riveting, Oscar-winning drama from Austria. The fact that The Counterfeiters is based on actual events makes addressing the question tough to avoid.

The story unfolds in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin in the final year of the Second World War. A Russian-born Jew named Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) who was a master forger in pre-war Berlin is transferred there and persuaded to set up a sophisticated operation designed to flood the British and American economies with vast amounts of counterfeit currency. In return, Sally, as he’s known, and his team of skilled printers and graphic artists get a little more food, weekly showers and marginally better housing than the millions of others who are being murdered in the Nazi’s death camps.

Sally applies an outlaw’s moral logic to the situation. Why wouldn’t he do what he has to do to survive, especially if it means others will survive in the process? Some of his team see his point precisely, focusing on their work and banishing hard questions from their minds. Others are sick with shame but press ahead nevertheless. A foil to Sally emerges in the form of an ardent communist named Burger (August Diehl) who can’t bring himself to aid the Nazi war machine and tries to sabotage the operation. Burger’s moral courage, his willingness to die for his ideals, is heroic, but it also renders him myopic.

Much of the film is shot with a hand-held camera, giving it a documentary feel and making the skewed moral universe of the camp all the more immediate and unnerving. Absent are the black-and-white absolutes of the film’s most obvious companion, Schindler’s List. Instead, the film navigates the grey ground of situational ethics. The journey is uncomfortable, at points harrowing, but in the end immensely rewarding. In order to figure out Sally Sorowitsch, we have to take on the harder work of figuring out ourselves. 

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image