Krueger’s Men: The Secret Nazi Coun­ter­feit Plot and the Pris­on­ers of Block 19

  • Review
By – November 11, 2011

This riv­et­ing account of the Nazi plot to flood Great Britain with coun­ter­feit pounds in order to dis­rupt the country’s wartime econ­o­my reads like a nov­el, but is, in fact, an almost neglect­ed aspect of World War II his­to­ry. Malkin, a jour­nal­ist, has painstak­ing­ly traced the main char­ac­ters and the deci­sion-mak­ing process that led the cash-poor Nazi gov­ern­ment to turn to the pro­duc­tion of coun­ter­feit mon­ey to sup­ple­ment its war against the Allies. 

Under the direc­tion of Hein­rich Himm­ler and Rein­hard Hey­drich, the SS select­ed Bern­hard Krueger, a tex­tile engi­neer by train­ing and SS forg­er by assign­ment, as chief of the oper­a­tion that bore his name, Oper­a­tion Bern­hard.” From the autumn of 1942 to the autumn of 1944, Krueger assem­bled a crew of just over 140 main­ly Jew­ish con­cen­tra­tion camp pris­on­ers from fif­teen nations, rep­re­sent­ing fifty-five trades or pro­fes­sions. The group includ­ed Jew­ish pris­on­ers from Auschwitz who were select­ed by Krueger, and then moved to the Sach­sen­hausen con­cen­tra­tion camp locat­ed out­side of Berlin. Although not tech­ni­cal­ly an exter­mi­na­tion camp, 18,000 Russ­ian pris­on­ers were exe­cut­ed in Sach­sen­hause­nen in 1941. It was in Blocks 19 and 20 of the camp that the pris­on­ers not only pro­duced the coun­ter­feit pounds, but also forged pass­ports and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments. In addi­tion, visas, date mark­ings, and rub­ber stamps were pro­duced from stolen banks and gov­ern­ment offices from scores of coun­tries in Ger­man occu­pied Europe. 

Jews were cho­sen for the project because at the con­clu­sion of the oper­a­tion they would be killed and thus the mouths of the pris­on­ers were to be sealed for­ev­er.” Like the sto­ry of A Thou­sand and One Nights,” how­ev­er, as long as the Jew­ish print­ers, graph­ic artists and accoun­tants con­tin­ued to pro­duce the almost unde­tectable forg­eries, the Nazis would keep them alive. Although the British even­tu­al­ly uncov­ered the plot, this did not pre­vent the Nazis from flood­ing the rest of Europe with the coun­ter­feit mon­ey. Iron­i­cal­ly, some of Oper­a­tion Bern­hard mon­ey laun­der­ers were also Jews. They were cho­sen because the Nazis believed that as Jews, they were more like­ly to be trust­ed by their unsus­pect­ing vic­tims. One Jew­ish laun­der­er, Jaac van Harten, mas­querad­ing as an offi­cer of the Inter­na­tion­al Red Cross, passed mil­lions of coun­ter­feit mon­ey in wartime Budapest, as well as a suit­case of jew­els for him­self. This excit­ing sto­ry would also make an excel­lent film.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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