Lately I’ve begun to notice an insidious thread running through almost all movies involving the Holocaust. It’s clearly there in “Schindler’s List.” It’s in “Black Book,” “The Pianist,” “I Served the King of England,” and even in “Life is Beautiful” a little. And it’s all over “The Counterfeiters.”
It’s the idea that, to some extent, the Holocaust was the Jews’ own fault. That if they had bonded together and fought against the persecution, the Germans would’ve been too busy fighting the war to keep it up. But they were too pragmatic and survivalist, worried more about the fate of their own skin than the fate of their people.
Mind you, I am not advocating this view. Far from it. I’m just pointing it out. If I remember my history right, the Jews gave the Roman Empire so much trouble, the Romans actually compromised with them and allowed them to keep their temples and synagogues – a concession they allowed no other conquered nation. Doesn’t sound like a people that’s just going to roll over and let themselves be eradicated, even 2000 years later. You can’t believe everything you see in the movies.
“The Counterfeiters” is about a select group of Jews with a select group of skills. In exchange for special treatment, they worked for months to successfully counterfeit the British Pound and American Dollar. Karl Markovics leads the team, and waffles between sabotaging the equipment to delay the process and delivering the goods. They get nice beds and ping pong tables, and are told that if they don’t deliver on time, someone – maybe all of them — will be shot. Outside their windows are the Jews without special skills, emaciated, forced to run laps around the compound, and routinely shot for any or no reason at all.
The question of survival is at the heart of “The Counterfeiters.” Markovics is plagued on both sides – not simply by the Nazis, but by prisoners who threaten to kill him if he doesn’t deliver, in order to save their own lives, and prisoners who threaten to kill him if he does deliver, in order to save the Jewish race. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether he’s a hero or a coward, a resistor or collaborator. But don’t get too arrogant; the choices he must make are far from easy.