Only the strong and dirty survive the Concentration camps. That is what has been said of the Jews who lived through the Holocaust. The kind, honest, and compassionate went up in a puff of smoke, and the conniving, cheating, and ruthless lived. Maybe that is true, or maybe it is not, but this true story shows an interesting perspective on the Holocaust.
Saloman was a forger. He was successful. He had survived the war in Germany for several years. Unfortunately he was caught. He survives in Mauthausen, a camp for the political elite and educated enemies of the Reich. He is cunning, and able to make his skills known and utilize them for survival. He orchestrates the discovery of his artistic ability, and begins doing portraits for the Nazi soldiers. As a valuable asset, he is well fed, and makes himself valuable.
Eventually he is discovered by the same man who put him away, and he is sent to Sauchsenhausen to begin a forgery operation called “Project Bernhard”. The effort is to destroy the allies economies with too much printed money.
The film portrays a stifled horror, one that makes you want to scream because of its subtle material. What happens behind closed doors is magnified in the mind. Behind walls where these elite workers are playing ping pong, are gunshots. When they are thrown in the showers, they wait…until the water comes on. The real conditions of the camp are hidden from these prisoners, but they and we know what’s really going on, and it makes the film that much more intense.
Hard moral decisions must be made. Herzog, one of Saloman’s friends, quits working on the forgeries because it would prolong the war and kill more people. Saloman, as we know, is out to save his own life. It’s the only way to survive. The movie deals with these questions very well. It is no wonder the film won an Oscar for best foreign film of 2008.
I questioned myself what I would have done in the same situation. I know I would’ve wanted to live. I didn’t cause the war, so doing what I could to stay alive definitely would have been appealing. Would my conscience have let me do so? Could I have lived knowing everyone was dying around me? I don’t know. I imagine I would have been so scared I would have done a lot to stay alive.
What would you have done?