|INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)||
Subscribe to our update feeds:
The Secret Nazi Counterfeit Plot and the Prisoners of Block 19
by Lawrence Malkin
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
Just when you thought Nazi concentration camp stories were exhausted, comes another one with an entirely unique slant. A story of survival by a group of printing craftsmen is just that, a story of high risk and equally high principles in which life and death balances on the scale of usefulness to Hitler's cause by barbaric madmen.
With a production that is a bit rough around the edges, German director Stefan Ruzowitzky brings Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) center stage. He's introduced as a lone, well-dressed figure on a beach before flashing back to what brought him here.
In the Berlin of 1936, when the Nazis were beginning to run the government, Sally cut a dashing figure in the shadowy world of the criminal underground. He always had plenty of money to live life in a grand style because he was printing it. He was also smarter than the associates he ran with, aware of arising dangers and one step ahead of those who would stifle him, or do him harm. He knew enough about what was happening to his Jewish neighbors and started packing up for an escape trip. But a last roll in the hay with sirenesque Aglaia (Marie Baumer) was his downfall. In the morning, still in bed, he's aroused by Sturmbannfuhrer Friedrich Herzog (Devid Striesow) and sent to Mauthausen, one of Hitler's many labor and death camps.
Still the opportunist with a head for what drives men, he judges well the power of ego. In the scarce time he has between chopping rocks, fighting starvation and avoiding instant death, he draws a figure of the S.S. Officer in charge of the cell block in idealized propagandistic style. Staging the "accidental" discovery of the sketch by the officer, it has its intended effect. He's instantly commissioned to draw the officer's family portrait in a similarly grandiose style, earning comforts and food for his abilities. Never running out of S.S. "clients" and subjects, the years of privilege pass until they come to an end by a ordered transfer to the larger and even more dreaded Sachsenhausen.
There, he meets again the Nazi who arrested him. It seems that the Nazi war effort was being strained by this time and a clever plan was put into place to fight England and the U.S. by decimating the value of their currency, and Sturmbannfuhrer Herzog was the clever officer in charge of the operation. Sorowitsch was his ace in the hole, a man whose uncanny skills with a printing press made him the perfect choice to run the already functioning shop.
Herzog is, of course, correct in his estimation of Sally's superior abilities but the assignment isn't ever so clear cut. While the wily Sturmbannfuhrer attempts to gain cooperation through granting greatly privileged treatment of the Jewish artisans of block 19, the counterseiters play for time, risking their lives to delay the day when the ploy could turn the tide of the war in the Nazis' favor.
One of Ruzowitzky's directorial strategies, according to his press notes, was to never see the action from the viewpoint of the Nazis. They are seen only from a prisoner's perspective. Such wise subtleties runs through the film and lends the fearsome circumstances a sense of presence and reality. Wise, too, is the choice of Markovics for Sally, a man whose grand style and way with the ladies had nothing to do with his looks. The attraction to him was the control he had over his circumstances and his well displayed success, qualities that play across physical boundaries.
Finally, having been in a flashback, the film returns to the man on the beach after the outcome of the largest counterseiting operation in history is revealed. You'll understand if it can't, however, be revealed here.
The film, based on the book "The Devil's Workshop" by Adolf Burger, is good enough to have been nominated as one of the five to be considered for an Oscar in the category of Best Foreign Language Film of 2007. It's a contender.
~~ Jules Brenner