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Burger of Operation Bernhard dies

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Adolf Burger at the premier of “The Counterfeiters” in Paris in 2008—clutching one of the Operation Bernhard fake five-pound notes and a copy of his book, “The Commando of Counterfeiters.” (Image Thierry Caro, Wikimedia Commons)

On Dec. 6 Adolf Burger died in Prague. He was aged 99.

Several reports of his death in the mainstream media claimed he was the last survivor of Operation Bernhard. He was not. He was one of two last survivors. At the time of writing, Hans Walter was still living in Ohio, age 95.

Burger was born in 1917 into a Jewish family in Slovakia. At age 14 he became an apprentice printer and typesetter. When Word War II broke out he received a waiver from deportation as having skills indispensable to the country’s economy.

He was contacted by the resistance and asked to print false baptismal certificates for Jews scheduled for deportation. These stated they had been born Roman Catholic. His activities were discovered and he and his wife were arrested in August 1942. They were sent to Auschwitz where his wife was murdered the following year.

In April 1944 Burger was selected for Operation Bernhard. He was transferred firstly to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and subsequently to the Mauthausen camp network. It was here he was liberated by the U.S. Army in May 1945.

Operation Bernhard started as a plan to destabilize the British economy by flooding the world in general, and the British Empire in particular, with forged Bank of England £5, £10, £20, and £50 notes.

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An Operation Bernhard fake Bank of England 10 pound note.


The BoE counterfeiting operation ended in 1944 at which point a new operation to forge U.S. bills was established. Adolf Burger was one of eight selected for this project. In early February 1945 200 $100 bills were successfully produced. An immediate plan was hatched to produce 10,000/day. However, when the wholesale bombing of Berlin commenced the presses were dismantled.

Bernhard, named after SS Major Bernhard Krüger, was the largest counterfeiting operation in the history of economic warfare. It was one of the first to employ the full technical, scientific, and management resources of a sovereign state to produce and issue bogus currency with the aim of destabilizing an enemy’s economic standing.

Burger eventually wrote his memoirs. In the 1970s he told the New York Times, “When I was liberated by the Americans I went home very calmly, never had a bad dream”…“For years I was silent, I didn’t want to speak about this anymore. It was only when the neo-Nazis started with their lies about Auschwitz that I began.”

His memoir, The Commando of Counterfeiters, was published in 1983 and he was invited to London to launch the book. Here he visited the Bank of England and was given a tour of the bank and its museum. Chief cashier Andrew Bailey took the opportunity to present him with one of the BoE notes he had forged in the concentration camp more than 60 years earlier.

Screenwriter and director Stefan Ruzowitzky adapted the book as a screenplay, The Counterfeiters, with Burger checking every draft of the screenplay. The movie received an Oscar in 2008.

 

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter. >> Subscribe today.

 

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