The Counterfeiters

From March ’08 Spotlight: One of this year’s five finalists for the “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar was a Holocaust film from Austria called The Counterfeiters which opened in multiple theatres in metro Chicago on February 29. A few weeks ago, I met face-to-face with writer/director Stefan Ruzowitsky. Ruzowitsky knows he has a Jewish sounding name: “I read somewhere that this ‘itsky’ is a Jewish ending, but it didn’t stop my grandparents from becoming Nazis.”

Based on a true story, The Counterfeiters describes the Nazi plan to manufacture fake currency, made, of course, by Jewish concentration camp inmates. “What intrigued me right away when I heard about this story for the first time, I felt right away this is a perspective I haven’t heard before,” Ruzowitsky told me. “When I had written my first draft, I found out that I’d fallen for all these positive clichés–every Jew is wise and cultivated and that kind of stuff. I had the best of intentions, but that’s dangerous because finally it means they’re a different race, even if it’s in a positive way.”

“My idea was to show something different. A counterfeiter in a concentration camp — crook, gangster, jailbird? Yes. And the others are blue collar workers and Prussian bankers, and they just happen to have Jewish ancestors, and that’s it. They were coming from Berlin and Munich and wherever, and they were Germans, not Jews as opposed to Germans.”

Summing up, he said: “I think that in today’s Austria and Germany, even Right Wing politicians would agree that the Holocaust was a huge crime, but they would say: ’The Holocaust was collateral damage, an ugly side effect that shouldn’t have happened. The Nazi ideology is about the beautiful highways, law and order, trains being on time, functional families.’ They wouldn’t see that the Holocaust is actually the essence of that whole ideology and that the highways are collateral. I think this is something people have to be reminded of.”

To read my complete interview with Ruzowitsky, visit www.films42.com/chats/ruzowitsky.asp

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