Adolf Burger, one of the two remaining survivors of Operation
Bernhard, the counterfeiting workshop at the Nazi concentration camp
in Sachsenhausen, died December 6 in Prague. He was 99.
According to his obituary in the newspaper iDnes.cz, Burger was
born Aug. 12, 1917, in Velka Lomnica, Slovakia. In 1942, he was
arrested and transported to the town of Zilina and then to Auschwitz.
Since he was a printer by profession, he was transferred to
Sachsenhausen for Operation Bernhard, a secret German plan to destroy
Britain’s economy by counterfeiting £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes. The
142 prisoners in the scheme forged, not only bank notes, but also
postage stamps, foreign passports and ID cards. The operation was
named for its director, SS Major Bernhard Krüger. Burger and his team
forged close to 9 million notes with a value of more than a hundred
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The Operation Bernhard notes are still considered among the most
perfect counterfeits ever made, with properly engraved plates, rag
paper, correct watermarks, and even valid serial numbers. Today, says
Colorado specialist William M. Rosenblum, the fakes can be identified
with 99 percent certainty based first on serial number ranges, and
then by carefully looking for a minuscule anomaly: “ ‘Bank of England’
is found in the watermark at the bottom of the note. There is a
triangle at the base of the first ‘N’ in England. On the counterfeits
there is a line that originates from the center of the base of the
triangle while on the originals the line is off-center.”
Shortly after the war, Burger wrote a book, Number 64401
Speaks. It was made into a movie, The Counterfeiters, that
won the Oscar in 2008 for best foreign language film.
He said in an interview for the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes
10 years ago, “Although I had everything in the counterfeiting
workshop — my own bed, white [clean] pillows, bread, how much I wanted
and the radio played — I was falling asleep with the thought, ‘You’re
on a vacation, but dead.’ We were not supposed to get out. The fact
that the Americans came faster and SS ran away, that’s more than luck.
I never believed that I would survive the secret printing shop.”
The last survivor of Operation Bernhard is 95-year-old Hans Walter,
who lives in Ohio.