At the request of the “Inne Oblicza Historii” ("Other Faces of History") magazine the HMM has interviewed Mr. Adolf Burger living in the Czech Republic, who during the war was in a German concentration camp, a member of a special group falsifying i. a. English pounds, dollars, postage stamps, military documents in English, American, Russian, etc. After the war he wrote a book called "Devil's workshop" (“Des Teufels Werkstatt: The Fälscherkommando des KZ Sachsenhausen”), from which the script for the “The Counterfeiters” movie was developed and in 2007 achieved a worldwide success, was awarded with an Oscar, surpassing i. a. Andrzej Wajda's "Katyń".
Piotr Olecki: Please tell us something about yourself. When and where were you born?
Adolf Burger: I was born on August 12th 1917 in a village called Velka Lomnica in Slovakia, not far from Poprad.
Piotr Olecki: So what were you doing then the war began and what were your war experiences?
Adolf Burger: When the war broke out in 1939 I was in Bratislava. I worked as a printer in an enterprise. And so I worked and worked. I had a unique situation, I was a Jew, but due to the fact that the Slovaks had no printers, chemists, doctors and technicians they made an exception for the Jews who were experts and allowed them to work. They didn't have to wear the Jewish stars and were able to walk normally to work. It was such an exception.
In 1938 three gentlemen from Mitra near Bratislava came to me, introduced themselves and said they were from the Communist Party, which acted illegally against Tiso, who was a Catholic priest and killed 94 000 Jews in Slovakia. They said that Tiso has revised the Jewish code to make it similar to the Nuremberg laws. Everyone who was baptized in the Catholic rite until 1938 or lived in Slovakia, this affected only Catholics, was considered to be Aryan… I was 22. They told me - print baptismal certificates for us, we want to save so many people… okay, well what could I know at my young age about conspiracy… And so I printed these metrics for 3 years. Working in the print I had such an opportunity. The Slovak Gestapo found my trail. They arrested me and sent to Auschwitz. I was there for 2 months and then they transferred me to Birkenau, there was hell there.
Piotr Olecki: When were you enlisted to "Operation Bernhard" and why you were selected to work in this operation?
Adolf Burger: When I got to Birkenau my questionnaire was made before I received a camp number; I had to tell where I was born, what was my profession, what I did. An order from the Sicherheitsdienst came to the camp that all Jews, who were printers by trade, have to be sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. So they sent us to Sachsenhausen. There we falsified 131 million pounds sterling. All this is described in my book.
Piotr Olecki: Bernhard Kruger's Commando primarily dealt with falsifying pounds. At what stage were the attempts to produce false dollars?
Adolf Burger: It's obvious that the Germans wanted to forge dollars, but my foreman, Jakub, a Jew from Holland, told me: If we falsify U.S. dollars we extend this war. He did poor quality gelatin and the typesetter noticed it. Then came SS-Sturmbannführer Krüger and said: "If within 6 weeks you won't falsify the dollars orderly I'll treat it as sabotage and shoot you at 10 a. m. But that was all too late. We sabotaged the work for 6 weeks and when we made the first good 200-dollar bills the Russians were already near Berlin. It was too late, but they wanted these dollars all the time. They loaded us and the machines on 16 rail cars and transported to Austria. They were crazy with those dollars. When the Americans came along they ran away.
Piotr Olecki: What have you worked on during the preparation of false currency?
Adolf Burger: I was a professional, an educated printer. I printed counterfeit pound banknotes. It's all just a matter of time. To print regular posters your need one hour to prepare the machine, to print banknotes - you need 3 days. This is the only difference. If you learn your job well, you can do everything.
Piotr Olecki: Besides counterfeiting currencies did you and your colleagues deal with the preparation of false documents or other materials?
Adolf Burger: Besides the banknotes we also made English post stamps with the image of the king, queen and Stalin, American, English and Swiss passports and the Russian prisoners made i. a. NKVD passes. We just made any possible document for the whole world.
Piotr Olecki: Some historians believe that the originator of the idea to counterfeit British pounds was Alfred Helmut Naujocks. Did you knew during the war about his participation in this project?
Adolf Burger: That's right, that Naujocks was the initiator of this falsification action, I wrote about this in my book 20 years ago. Obviously, it was his idea, which he implemented. Of course I haven't heard about Naujocks then, while I was in the camp.
Piotr Olecki: The surviving documents show that a large part of the Bernhard Krüger's commando had a Polish ancestry. Do you remember any particular person included in this group? What did they do? Do you remember the names of senior SS officers, with whom you had contact?
Adolf Burger: Of course there were Poles in our Commando. I refer again to my book “Devil's workshop”. I posted there in the Annex lists the names of SS-men and even gave Sturmbannführer Krüger's secretary's data. There are also the names and dates of birth, not only the Polish prisoners, but also all those who were involved in printing counterfeit banknotes and documents. I've been preparing my book for 10 years. Each of us was doing his job, they were all professionals, the electricians were worked on the electrical system, the printers were printing etc.
Piotr Olecki: Did the information about the production of counterfeit currency in some way got to the Allies? Did the members of the commandos attempted to provide such information to the Allies by e. g. underground organizations, which sometimes worked in concentration camps?
Adolf Burger: When and how should we do it? We were behind barbed wire. We lived in two separate blocks, fenced off from the main camp. We couldn't pass such information to anyone.
Piotr Olecki: Do you have some knowledge about locating a company in Lower Silesia that would produce paper during the war for the production of counterfeit currency realized by your group?
Adolf Burger: No, I do not know anything about any company in Lower Silesia. I've never heard such a thing before.
Piotr Olecki: Did any member of the commando steal banknotes?
Adolf Burger: What for steal money? We were behind barbed wire! 15 SS-men watched us all the time. They could execute us just for putting aside one of the notes. Why should I steal money I falsified? They could execute me for that immediately.
Piotr Olecki: How did you prevent the liquidation of the commando at the end of the war?
Adolf Burger: You could write a books about this. Get this book somehow. Everything's described there.
Piotr Olecki: What was the fate of you and other members of "Operation Bernhard" after release?
Adolf Burger: There were 15 Czechoslovakians, we've met sometimes… all died, there were 6 Austrians, we've met together later in Vienna, everyone is dead… My foreman Jakub also died, one friend still lives in Berlin, one in Israel… There may still be 2-3 people…
Piotr Olecki: Salomon Smolianoff is considered one of the most important members of the operation. Did he really played an important role in the counterfeiting of foreign currencies and have you any knowledge about Smolianoff's postwar fate?
Adolf Burger: Salomon Smolianow was the only professional there. Krueger brought him from the camp Mauthausen. He was the best money counterfeiter in Europe. Each of us played an important role in the action, not just Smolianow. There weren't among us more or less important people. I don't know what has happened with Smolianow after the war. He was my best friend. When we parted on the 6th of May 1945 I said to him: Sally, promise me that you won't counterfeit anything else. He gave me his word. We parted.
Piotr Olecki: Do you have contact with people living in Poland, which like you were members of the "Operation Bernhard"?
Adolf Burger: In Poland I have no friends, because I simply couldn't communicate in Polish. The same goes for the Frenchman and Dutchman, I'd need an interpreter. It's only possible with a friend from Germany. I'm still in contact with him.
Piotr Olecki: Who (besides Bernhard Krüger) from the management of operation "Bernhard" survived the war and escaped justice?
Adolf Burger: I don't know what happened with the SS officers after the war. Krüger, who was their boss was not punished after the war, he was hiding for ten years, when he was found he got six years for counterfeiting, he died in 1989 in Hamburg, that's all I know.
Piotr Olecki: Do you think that the notes produced by the commando could be even today mistaken for originals? How do you evaluate today the goal of "Operation Bernhard"? Was it really an action aimed to undermine the economic stability of the coalition of the allied countries?
Adolf Burger: How should I know? Back then they circled the whole globe and went through banks. I'm not a finance minister. I'm not able to make such an assessment. I only know that the English had never spoken about it loudly. Now, when the movie was shown in Britain, the British are surprised, because they didn't know about it. England couldn't publish this back then. I know that 134 million shillings were in circulation worldwide. Immediately after the discovery of counterfeit money by the Americans, that is May 6th 1945 planes flew from England to Ebensee, they packed them for 5 days, then took back to England and locked in a safe.
Olecki Piotr: Maybe it was, however, more about the private interests of high SS officers?
Adolf Burger: What, you think that Krüger who was an officer in the SS-Sturmbannführer rank did this for himself? He was an officer in the SS!
Piotr Olecki: What secrets linked with “Operation Bernhard” do you consider unsolved to this day? Are any of them associated with Poland?
Adolf Burger: What could not yet be explained? Everything is pretty clear! Again, I recommend you to read my book… Among us were representatives of 10 nationalities, it has nothing to do with Poland. There were Russians, Germans, Czechoslovakians… This has nothing to do with Poland. Everyone who was a printer was assigned to this operation.