The Dev­il’s Work­shop: A Mem­oir of the Nazi Coun­ter­feit­ing Operation

Adolf Burg­er
  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

Although The Devil’sWorkshop is described as a mem­oir of the Nazi coun­ter­feit­ing oper­a­tion based in the Sach­sen­hausen con­cen­tra­tion camp between 1942 – 1945, Adolf Burger’s book is much more than that. Burg­er was arrest­ed by the Nazis in Slo­va­kia and sub­se­quent­ly sent to Auschwitz. He describes what life was like for Jews under the gov­ern­ment of Mon­sign­or Joseph Tiso, a Catholic priest, and his ersatz SS group, the Hlin­ka guards. He gives a vivid descrip­tion of life in Auschwitz, where his 22 year old wife was sent to the gas cham­ber. He tells how Jew­ish kom­man­dos” were assigned to rob the dead of their dig­ni­ty in Birke­nau — shear­ing their hair, extract­ing gold fill­ings from their teeth, and so on. Berg­er also pro­vides a har­row­ing pic­ture of the Nazi treat­ment of the Gyp­sy camp at Birke­nau — all in all a sear­ing­ly graph­ic descrip­tion of Auschwitz. 

The sec­ond part of the mem­oir deals with the Nazis’ attempt to forge mil­lions of British pounds ster­ling in order to weak­en the British cur­ren­cy. Toward that end, the Reich Secu­ri­ty Ser­vice orga­nized a forgery work­shop in the Sach­sen­hausen con­cen­tra­tion camp. The Nazi cre­ation of this eco­nom­ic weapon entailed the recruit­ment of Jew­ish pris­on­ers from select­ed camps such as Auschwitz, Buchen­wald, Raven­bruck, Mau­thausen, and There­sien­stadt, who were trans­ferred to Sach­sen­hausen. The cri­te­ria for those select­ed was that they had some expe­ri­ence with the print­ing trade, and this was how Adolf Burg­er was saved from even­tu­al death in Auschwitz (the mem­oir nev­er explains why Jew­ish pris­on­ers alone were cho­sen). All told, the project includ­ed 142 Jew­ish inmates who were forced to forge not only British paper mon­ey but also Amer­i­can bank note, worth bil­lions, as well as bonds, stamps, and oth­er doc­u­ments. Accom­pa­ny­ing his expe­ri­ences in Project Bern­hard,” named after the SS super­vi­sor of this crim­i­nal enter­prise, Burg­er and the pub­lish­er have pro­vid­ed a large assort­ment of pri­ma­ry doc­u­ments, rare pho­tos of the main par­tic­i­pants in the oper­a­tion, and of pris­on­ers incar­cer­at­ed in the var­i­ous con­cen­tra­tion camps. 

If Project Bern­hard” sounds famil­iar, it is because the book served as the basis for the award-win­ning film 2007 film The Coun­ter­feit­ers.” This riv­et­ing book is essen­tial for our under­stand­ing of a rel­a­tive­ly unknown chap­ter of the Holocaust.

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).

Discussion Questions