Pam West British Notes

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Bernhard Forgeries
Catterns £10 £20 £50 & Title Page
Peppiatt £5
Peppiatt £10
Peppiatt £20
Peppiatt £50 / £100
Branch Notes + Devil's Workshop
Operation Bernhard + DEVIL’S WORKSHOP


      Ten pound Bristol forgery


Branch Operation Bernhard Banknotes

Email  or  Phone 0208 641 3224  if you have information

This is an ongoing research project, serials are added when reported.

Signature Denom Branch Prefix Date The first two numbers of serial
Mahon £10 Birmingham 105 V 24  Dec 1926 52  53  54  55  56  67  73
Catterns #   £10 Leeds 138 V (143 V) 10  Jan 1933 02  06  07  12  24  25  64 
Peppiatt  £10  Bristol 168 V 10  Jun 1937 01  03  05
Peppiatt  £10  Leeds 150 V 27  Oct 1934 18  23  31
Peppiatt  £10  Liverpool 165 V 28  Sep 1936 03  65  71
Peppiatt  £10  Liverpool 170 V 10  Feb 1937 45  46  47  48  70  76
Peppiatt  £10  Manchester 153 V 10  Jan 1935 72
Peppiatt  £10  Manchester 163 V 28  Feb 1936 14  47  53

#  =  Actual Prefix on genuine banknote in brackets  

Prefixes claimed to have been printed in Stefano Poddi's article in IBNS Journal Vol 47, No 4  2008
V 105 to V 153,  V 163 to V 170



Pam  West   Pete West

Laurie Bamford :-  Many thanks for his research


Dr B Nathan      Mark  Ray      L Pope      M R Lovell    Spink     Simon Narbeth

Jonathan     Norman Aldred      Joe Boling      Esspique      A Starkey     Andy's  

David Howe     Frank Lerner     Al Tebworth     Stefano Poddi    Wil Morris

Jos Eijsermans    M Gouby     G Paulsen     I Gradon      Gary Stevens    

R Brighton    John Fox        Malcolm Johnson      F Prosser    Pat Heaton    

John Rainey      M Harris     J Boulton      Ray Stevens     Luigi Casaretta

Mr Johnnon     S Gabor      M Hooper      Phil Wade     C Severn     Stefan Watashi

Kelvin Cheung      Pavel Meleg     Marek Kondrat       Terje Johansen    Tony Sarto

Steve Jackson       Brent Arthurson      John Robb        Martin Tyler     T Weston (survivor)

Gus Bryngelson      Daniel McKone       Greg Fedner      Pat Tarmey     L Sunderland

Barry Dunnaway     Mr Brigham      George Brigham     Ralph Brighton    B Sutcliff

J Boulton     Daniel McKone      D Elliott       Michael Simonsen       Marcin Socha

S Rogers      Urs Graf      Mark Irwin     Heritage Auction     Peter Longmuir



        Pam meets Danny Spungen who introduced Simon Waksburg (ex internee of Auschwitz), 

        who had Mr Shindler stay at his home for three years after the war not knowing what he had done 



Operation Bernhard, the story of the biggest banknotes counterfeiting that ever happened.

The calm and monotonous voice dissembles a real intense agitation. Hansch was on the phone, a young SS lieutenant in charge of a convoy “of vital importance to the Reich”, whose contents he did not mean to mention. Wilhelm Hoettl was at the other end of the phone, member of the SS Secret Services, in charge of the Balkan area, who answered from Ernst Kaltenbrunner’s office, Head of the Nazi Department of Security (RSHA). The lieutenant reported that a little after leaving Redl-Zipf, a small place close to Salisburgh in Austria, he had faced some difficulties with two trucks: one had the axle broken, the other one had slipped from the road to the bank of the river Traun, where it got stuck in the gravel. Hansch was asking for a replacement of the two pieces, but as he understood he would not get it he asked permission to deliver one of the cargos to a unit of the Wehrmacht (the German army) while the cargo of the second truck was to be moved to the other cars of the convoy. Hoettl replied apparently unreasonably: “Throw the cargo into the Traun and send your men home…”. The Reich was close to defeat and somebody might have known about it before than others.

The order was strange and incomprehensible but the lieutenant, who was used to obey without objection, consigned part of the cargo to the Wehrmacht Captain and ordered to throw the boxes carried by the other truck into the river. Later on lieutenant Hansch was ordered to get rid of all carried material. This was how the boxes full of counterfeit notes, typographic plates and secret archives of the “Operation Bernhard” were thrown into the river Traun first and then into the river Enns and the lake Toplitz-see close to Salisburgh. Banknotes had been printed by prisoners of Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, 22 miles north of Berlin, in Block 19, where 137 deported Jews from thirteen different countries had been gathered, having specific skills: typographers, illustrators, painters, retouchers, chemists, engravers, pressmen, bookbinders, bank workers, forgers etc. Only by presenting the events in their chronological order, it will be possible to understand the story of the biggest banknotes counterfeiting ever happened, when the production of a great amount of high quality fake notes was combined with a systematic and methodical sales strategy of the currency. War includes many aspects, one of these being the weakening and possibly the destruction of the enemy economic system, by producing inflation and undermining its international reputation.


       Burger shows of his Nazi tattoo. 

The English, soon after the war had started, spread in Germany an amount of ration cards in order to upset the German supplying system, causing some troubles and exciting Nazi Alfred Helmut Naujocks’ intense desire for revenge. Naujocks was very close to the Fuehrer. He was the Nazi who had led the attack to the German radio station of Gliewitz pretending of being Polish, which gave the Germans the pretext for the invasion of Poland and World War II. In 1939 Naujocks proposed to Reinhard Tristan Heydrich, responsible for RSHA, to produce counterfeit banknotes and then fling them up upon Great Britain, such an amount of them that the enemy economic stability would be surely undermined. Heydrich presented a memorandum of Naujocks’s plot to Hitler, who unexpectedly approved it although excluding the production of counterfeit US dollars. He annotated in the document: “No dollars. We are not at war with USA”. In fact, USA went to war on December 8th 1941, after Japanese attack to Pearl Harbor. Having obtained Hitler’s approval, Heydrich led the plot such methodically that the results were magnificent according to quality. The aim was not imitating English currency as well as possible but producing banknotes exactly alike the originals, with the only difference of not being authorized by the British Government. “Operation Andreas”, the first Nazi Secret Services counterfeiting plot, started in a building located in Delbrueckstrasse, Charlotteberg, south of Berlin, where high quality forged Swiss and Swedish passports used to be produced.

The SS major was also in charge of the luxury brothel called “Salon Kitty”, exclusive to Nazi officers and other important persons among the allies, who were often caught in compromising attitudes and photographed. Regular customers were both Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son-in-law, and Hiroshi Oshima, Japanese ambassador in Berlin. While the counterfeiting plot was proceeding, several authentic £5 banknotes were taken, ripped up and sent to different universities in order to be scientifically examined. The result was disappointing since they agreed only on a single detail: paper used was made up of linen rags and not of some kind of exotic cellulose extracted from rare trees. Paper produced by using linen rags examined under the microscope was exactly alike the English original paper, but under the quartz lamp it appeared pale and opaque compared to the vivid and bright colors of the original.

After many tests it turned out that linen produced by German textile factories was not pure at all, thus they had to import a few tons of linen from Turkey. By using Turkish linen the dye resulted almost the same under the quartz lamp but under ultraviolet rays new linen paper reflected a white luminosity with a lilac nuance. After various attempts, Nazis understood that paper used for pounds was made up of second-hand linen rags appropriately washed. Thus, linen was cut into cleaning cloths, distributed among different offices, then recollected, thoroughly washed and finally distributed, used, recollected and washed again. This time the result was excellent since English most likely employed consumed cloth mail bags to obtain the fibre which the pulp to make pounds was based on. This type of paper was produced by two companies: the Spechthausen in Eberswalde near Berlin and the Schleicher & Schuell in Hahnemuele near Hannover. The incision of the typographic plates was performed, under threat of death, by Gerhard Kreische, one of the best German engravers, in August Petrick’s private typography. The preparation of the watermark drawing – the hardest part of the process – was performed in the paper factory of Spechthausen by a group of 20 researchers whose chief was Wilhelm Frank.

Banknotes were printed twice because the serial number was added on the second print. Banknotes produced by Operation Andreas were in six denominations: £5, £10, £20, £50, £100 and £500 notes. Only £5 pieces were printed in three times since the word “five” at the bottom left was printed separately by using a special black ink. On March 1941 these banknotes were sent to Switzerland along with a fake letter by the Reichsbank Section in charge of checking counterfeit currency, asking for opinion upon the attached banknotes. They confirmed the authenticity of the entire amount of banknotes. Naujocks sent an amount of those banknotes also to the bank of England in London which after three days replied that about 90% of them was authentic. Operation Andreas, by using only German personnel to produce in 18 months an amount of banknotes equal to 500.000 pounds, although only 10% of them had passed all tests, proved the production of almost perfect counterfeit pounds to be absolutely possible. According to an intercepted conversation between Heydrich and Kitty of Salon Kitty, Naujocks was becoming victim of that type of envy which often develops among sectors operating in the same context. Heydrich put him aside by inventing – at his own expense – an illicit trade of gold and appointing him to another office together with the main officers employed in the plot. Operation Andreas was abandoned. After one year interruption, on August 1942, pounds counterfeiting plot started again and SS major Bernhard Kruger was put in charge of it. The operation took his name and was called “Operation Bernhard”.

Bernhar Kruger, head of a workshop for forged passports, had the right skills to be used in the counterfeiting plot. In order to start the new operation they needed specifically skilled men. For this reason Kruger ordered SS colonel Hermann Doerner to make a list of 28 “Papierfachleute” – paper specialists – prisoners among different concentration camps. The first group of Jewish prisoners was settled in the Orainienburg concentration camp and then, on August 23rd 1942, moved to the nearby Sachsenhausen camp, still in Orainienburg.


        Oranienburg 50 Pfenning Prisone Camp note. 

Producing and using counterfeit banknotes include facing some difficulties which can be divided into three main phases: a thorough analysis of every banknote detail, an accurate reproduction of them and a quick and efficient expenditure of the counterfeit currency. Phase 1 – the longest and most complicated – includes analyzing the paper, the imprinted watermark, the printing process, the ink used and the numeric code linking date, prefix, serial number, watermark numbers and signature. Phase 2 – the most practical and operational – includes production of the paper, printing of the banknotes, classification according to quality and, finally, artificial ageing of banknotes. Phase 3 – the most organizational and purely commercial – includes the validation tests made by the best banking houses and the following creation of a complex and efficient network of agents in charge of distributing as much as possible on the market the counterfeit banknotes with the greatest discretion. Phase 1 will be described focusing on the paper used to print the “White Notes”. The paper, as the analysis made by German universities had shown, was made up of pure linen cloths unraveled and frayed, without adding any cellulose. Paper had to be handmade, a special procedure reserved to high quality and limited productions, while paper was – already at the time – an industrial product. During the production they realized paper presented a variation of white hue, due to the composition of the water used by the English. The Portal family from Laverstoke, who had controlled the paper supply for English Bank banknotes since 1725, stocked up on water from Hull, thus the Germans chemically changed the composition of water to make it look like the English one.

Paper manufacture needed to start from the pulp which was monitored through chemical analysis inside tubs two or three meters wide and whose temperature and humidity were checked every hour, while a blender assured the right level of consistency. At a maximum speed, about 12.000 sheets of paper a month travelled from Spechthausen factory to Sachaenhausen concentration camp. The manufacturing process was as follows: workers took the mixture from the tubs using a loom with the most delicate matrixes attached to it and whose extreme precision was essential to obtain the best results. They were in fact used to prepare the so called “water drawing” for the watermark, of high purity of style and rich of high quality shading. The pulp, after being recollected by means of the loom, was then set on 1m² felt pieces. Pulp and felt were put one upon the other and when they had reached 20 layers they were pressed by a machine to eliminate the humidity. At this point paper sheets, although still humid, could be touched without breaking. They were then put into a dryer for four/six days and successively into a hand press. Paper was now ready to be printed. The type of ink used was the so called Frankfort black ink extracted from the charcoal made with grape boiled into linen oil. Ironically, the best grapevines used for this type of ink came from Germany and for this reason the Gebrueder Schmindt of Berlin was able to provide an ink very much alike the one used in England. Printing plates came from August Petrick’s factory in Berlin and were examined every 100 pieces. Banknotes were hand cut like the English originals. The serial numeration of counterfeit banknotes had to be authentic, which means that serial letters and numbers, dates, signature and the numbers of the watermark had to be the ones really issued by Great Britain.

They examined many original banknotes whose date of issue covered a period of about 20 years and a specific series of variables was associated to each date. Over 350 combinations were found. Actually, there was an algorithm linking date, signature, serial number and the number of the banknote with the code imprinted in the watermark. A group of German mathematicians managed, at least partially, to decrypt it. According to some theories, Germans might have been secretly informed by a clerk of the Bank of England. Only in 1986, the two English banknotes collectors Ian Fraser and Trevor Jones, after years of studies upon £5 notes, managed to explain the method used by the Bank of England to link together the different variables.

Since it was impossible to prepare a plate for each date of issue, interchangeable lines were used for date, prefix, serial number and signature. About 400 stripes were prepared to be inserted each time into the printing plate according to combination needed. In the history of the Bank of England there had been, since the foundation in 1694, twenty-three Head Bank Cashiers. Only the signatures of three of them were used:
· Cyril Patrick Mahon, Head Cashier from April 4th 1925 to March 26th 1929;
· Basil Gage Catterns, Head Cashier from March 27th 1929 to April 17th 1934;
· Kenneth Oswald Peppiatt, Head Cashier from April 18th 1934 to February 22nd 1949.

One more problem was that printing plates had to reproduce an amount of more than 150 secret security devices, which means different signs identified among denominations to check their authenticity. For example, the small indentation at the bottom of letter f in the inscription “…Comp.a of the Bank” and the small white point in the middle of letter i in “Five”. Counterfeit £5 notes were about 44% of the entire amount produced – about 9 million pieces in total, worth 132 million pounds; £10 notes were about 27%; £20 notes about 15% and £50 about 14%.

The printer machine used was a Victoria-Tiegel Type 4 which arrived in Block 19 in December 1942. It was electric and equipped with a diesel generator in case of lack of electricity. Between the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, Block 18 was attached to Block 19 in order to improve internal logistics and increase the production of counterfeit pounds. At first, they printed four banknotes out of each sheet of paper and then, to avoid wasting, they started printing eight instead. After being printed, banknotes were divided into one-thousand pieces packs along with a tag indicating denomination, serial number, prefix, watermark numbers, the number of pieces, date and the name of the prisoner in charge of the production.

In 1943 about 400.000 banknotes were printed each month in Sachsenhausen. Once they had been printed it was essential to classify them in order to minimize risks during the expenditure. Every prisoner in charge had a luminous machine with a transparent part where the bill was introduced and examined by being compared with an authentic banknote.

Counterfeit notes were divided into four classes plus one concerning the production rejects recycled to make new pulp:
· Class I: the best banknotes with no imperfection, used to buy in neutral countries.
· Class II: banknotes with only one minor imperfection, used to pay collaborators operating in neutral countries.
· Class III: banknotes with more than one minor imperfection, used to buy and to pay agents operating in occupied countries.
· Class IV: banknotes with a major imperfection, not usable for transactions, to be thrown over England by German airplanes.
· Class V: banknotes with more than one major imperfection, used exclusively to make new pulp.

For example, with 300.000 counterfeit pounds from Class II they paid the famous spy Elyesa Bazna (known as Cicero), private waiter of Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, English ambassador in Turkey.

Once they had been classified the packs were put together according to their classification but with diverse serial numbers and dates to make it look like a normal grouping of authentic English banknotes. The classifiers’ sector, whose responsible was prisoner Oskar Skala (Stein), used to work slowly and meticulously. Each prisoner managed to classify about 300 pieces every day. It was a hard job especially when the eyes were tired and could easily lead to mistakes. In order not to attract attention, banknotes had to seem used. The printing ink contained linen oil which could spread easily – even on the best quality paper – making the writings lose their initial sharpness. Thus, they added to the ink some chemical substances which favored a quick penetration into paper. The result was that the banknotes seemed used. The ageing process of the banknotes was better and better. Workers were lined up and each one had a different task: some creased the banknotes, some folded them as if they had been put in a wallet, some notched them and punched them, some wrote English words or numbers – as bank cashiers used to do on the banknote on top of a pack to indicate the total amount.

Pinholes were crucial since the dimension of the White Notes did not allow using a strip of paper to fold them together. Only twenty-five £5 banknotes – the smallest size among denominations – were equal to 125 pounds, a considerable six months wage. Putting banknotes together by means of a pin had been for more than a century the most common method, also when they had to be attached to a document: in fact, banknotes put into circulation presented more than one pinhole after a short time. In order to signal the counterfeiting, prisoners tried to pinhole the notes in the medallion representing Goddess Britannia since no British would have done such an outrageous deed. Britannia was, among the Romans, the ancient Latin name for the British Isles, including Albione, i.e. Great Britain, Ibernia, i.e. Ireland, and many other small islands. Later on it became the divine personification of Great Britain.

One more improvement to the ageing process was ripping away a small piece from the right side of the banknote at different heights according to denomination, a method commonly used by bank clerks to recognize the value of the banknotes only by looking at the cut. An upper cut for £5, a bit lower for £10, a middle cut for £20, a cut on the lower half for £50. Besides the banknotes apparently issued by the central Bank of England in London also banknotes from the branches in Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester were counterfeited, although in a smaller amount.

Operation Bernhard started in February 1943 and ended in November 1944.

Once they had been meticulously examined and perfectly reproduced banknotes had to be changed now for valuable goods and currency. Nazis went to Friedrich Schwend, a great international trader of Austrian origins, a very cultivated person with remarkable financial skills, who, after many interviews, managed to convince the Germans that feeding the German Secret Services by means of the income deriving from the counterfeiting plot would be much more useful than throwing counterfeit banknotes over the sky of Great Britain. Schwend prepared a widespread network of agents who had to buy currency, gold, silver and jewels with counterfeit money. Schwend was remunerated with 33.3% of the value of the banknotes; he paid his agents with the 26% of the placed banknotes; he had the 8.3% of all expended banknotes and with this he bought transport, banknotes storage, security for his agents, corruption. The same money was used to maintain two boats – “Genoa” and “Trieste” – and a yacht called “Aurora”. Schwend’s agents were basically bank clerks in Italy and Switzerland, hotel managers or owners in Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain. Starting from here he extended his network also including the best traders living in every European country.

A typical transaction in Italy proceeded this way: fake banknotes were changed for Badoglio’s liras or for the liras of Mussolini’s RSI, then converted to liras of the Southern Reign or to gold and jewels. Jewels were transferred to Switzerland where they were used to buy Swiss francs, US dollars or Swedish kronas. It was forbidden to take pounds since they could be the counterfeit ones and, moreover, their value would anomalously increase the amount of pounds imported in Germany. Schwend’s position was delicate and dangerous; the allies’ agents were eager to capture him, but even among the Nazis some feelings of envy started to develop due to his success and to the relationship he had with the upper spheres of the Nazi party. Heinrich Mueller, head of Gestapo, produced some evidence about Schwend being born Jewish and married to a Jew. Schwend replied with documents attesting he was purely Arian.

In any case, as Kaltenbrunner – in charge of SS Secret Services – pointed out, if Jews produced counterfeit banknotes in Sachsenhausen, why could not a Jew sell them? Schwend had settled his headquarters in Labers Castle near Merano in Tirolo, where he received the packs of forged banknotes to be sold. When the majority of banknotes delivered was Class III he realized war would not end happily for Nazis. Some personalities wanted to make part of the plot, considering the easy profits. Galeazzo Ciano, for example, asked 100.000 pounds to sell in South America. He did not have a good reputation and giving him such an amount of money, although fake, was risky, but they could not refuse considered his involvement with the Duce’s family. In fact, the story ended with Ciano’s execution in January 1944 in Verona, after he was sentenced to death for conspiracy against Mussolini in the Castelvecchio Trial. In August 1944 Germany lost the neutrality of Turkey, due to a change in the Turkish Government, thus Turkish linen was no longer available. Paper factories providing paper to Kruger used lower quality cloths and as a first result banknotes produced did not pass the ultraviolet light test. This was the reason why Kruger and the others started to pay attention to the counterfeiting of Us dollars. In December 1944 the fabrication of fake dollars started.

Prisoners in charge of this operation were only four. They printed by means of the “light technique” which consisted in piling twenty-four negatives on a glass plate covered with a special gelatinous emulsion. Abraham Jacobson, a Jewish Dutch chemist, sabotaged the composition of the gelatinous emulsion making the print rough and notes useless. Despite the efforts made and after many threatens received if they had not managed to produce high quality dollars in five weeks, the production reached only an amount of two-hundred $100 banknotes equivalent to $20.000 – which Kruger brought with him when he escaped. The day after they should have printed one million banknotes, but they were ordered to demolish everything and put all material inside some wooden boxes. Russians were about a hundred miles far from Berlin. Prisoners in charge of counterfeiting played a very important role in the war, thus Nazis assured them the best comforts: a clean and decent accommodation, radio, newspapers, mail and a ping-pong table. Nevertheless, their fate was settled: knowing about the plot sentenced them to certain death. However, events took a different and unexpected direction: the allies started collecting a series of victories. “Operation Bragation” was crucial for the Eastern front: in summer 1944 Russians managed to destroy the central German army and to push their way to Berlin.

Manteuffel, one of the most audacious among the Nazi mobile troops commanders, recalls the event like this: “The advance of a Russian army is something that an Occidental cannot even imagine. …(the) mounted infantry…does not depend on supplies…the soldier carried on his back a sack where he had nothing but dry bread crusts and what he had collected in the villages he had passed through…mainly some row vegetables. Horses were fed on straw taken from roofs.”  In spite of the Russians’ remarkable strategy, Nazi resistance after Hitler’s order was such that Russians managed to take Berlin only in May 1945. Nazis tried to put up resistance not only on the war front but also in the prisoners’ control: on February 26th 1945 these were moved from Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany to the Austrian one in Mauthausen – covering a distance of almost five hundred miles – and after about a month to Ridl-Zipf and finally to Ebensee. In Ebensee concentration camp – abandoned by the defeated Nazis – prisoners were set free by the Americans on May 6th 1945.

Differences between original and counterfeit pounds

There are a few differences between authentic and counterfeit pounds related to paper, watermark and print. They can be noticed only by means of a careful and scrupulous examination and by comparing the counterfeit banknotes with an original, which normally never happens in a standard economic transaction. According to some literature there exist 28 differences but in this article only the most evident ones will be described and the most used among collectors, scholars and merchants:
1. In the watermark, the triangle at the bottom of the first “N” in the word “ENGLAND” in “BANK OF ENGLAND” is intersected by a line which originates from the centre of triangle in the fake notes and from the left half at the bottom of triangle in the originals.
2. The writing “BANK OF ENGLAND” in the watermark presents some maladjusted letters in the counterfeit banknotes.
3. Quality of paper is often better in the counterfeit banknotes.
4. Watermark is clearer in the counterfeit banknotes.
5. The paper at the beginning appears whiter in counterfeit banknotes than in the originals.
6. The medallion representing Goddess Britannia on the top left is almost tridimensional in the originals and the drape next to the bottom of the lance is much more detailed.

Another reference can be found in the lists of the series counterfeited by Nazis and compiled throughout the years. However, none of these methods is absolute. Every collector, scholar or merchant has his own way to distinguish authentic and counterfeit notes based on a combination of factors together with one’s practical experience.

Interview with Adolf Burger

Adolf Burger is the only survivor of Operation Bernhard. He has just celebrated his 90th birthday and, despite his age, he is a solid and determined man. We met him in his house in Sporilov, a quarter in Prague characterized by a diversified urbanization: high anonymous buildings together with detached houses. Adolf Burger lives in one of these. He talked about his story in the book “Des teufels werkstatt” (The Devil’s Workshop) which has been recently translated into Czech (“Dablova Dilna”). The book is full of pictures, tables and documents which have been collected during three years researches and travels. Burger says: “…you can write volumes and volumes but to make people believe you there must be some clear evidence such as pictures and documents”.

When in 1972 he noticed some attempts to deny the Jewish Holocaust, he started holding meetings and conferences all over the world to testify with his own presence, documents and pictures – which he always carries with him – that the horror of the Nazi dictatorship was real and that it really happened in the civilized Europe only about 60 years ago. Burger often visits Germany and other countries. Now he has just come back from Japan where he held a series of conferences. He is some kind of globetrotter in the name of truth. As the interview goes on we get to know the different phases of his story: he was born on August 12th 1917 in Velka Lominca, a village on the High Tatras in Slovakia; he worked as a typographer in Bratislava and produced fake certificates of baptism to save some Jews from deportation; he was arrested by Nazis and deported to concentration camps in Auschwitz, Birkenau, Sachsenhausen, Redl-Zipf and finally Ebensee, where he was saved by Americans on May 6th 1945. He shows us, almost proud of it, number 64401 tattooed by Nazis on his left forearm on September 12th 1942 in Birkenau. Here he was subjected to Dr Josef Mengele’s experiments which gave him temperature of more than 107.6°F and exposed his life to risk.

In Birkenau, after 18 months of detention, during an evening call he was convoked for the following morning by the Responsible in charge of the camp, Rudolf Franz Hess. Burger could not sleep at night thinking that his moment had come. Surviving in Birkenau was almost impossible, but he did not know yet that his salvation would depend on this event. The following day Hess turned to him and surprisingly called him by name: “You are Mr Adolf Burger, aren’t you?” – “I am” – “Are you a typographer?” – “Yes, I am” – “We need you in Berlin then”. In the meanwhile Nazis were gathering a group of prisoners experts in paper manufacture to be destined to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Block 19, in order to produce counterfeit pounds. The film “The Counterfeiters” has been based on his book. Burger helped as a consultant with no remuneration but at the condition of supervising every part of the script, which he wanted to be loyal to the historical events he had witnessed, being the only survivor. In fact, the first draft of the script presented some details diverging from reality, more spectacular but totally untrue: according to the script, millions of fake US dollars had been produced while only 200 pieces where actually made; in the script prisoners were set free by Russians while Americans had saved them in Ebensee; also the Nazis giving some credits, crosses of was or medals of merit to Block 19 prisoners was totally false. This last matter, which confers Nazis some sense of humanity towards Jewish prisoners involved in the plot, was treated first in a book written in 1956 by Wilhelm Hoettl – under the pseudonym of Walter Hagen – and then discussed again in other works where the story turns out to be completely made up. Burger denounced Hoettl who died before the trial could start, bringing with him his false evidence.

The interview proceeds with the narration of the meeting with Salomon Smolinoff, a Russian Jew who was a professional falsifier and had already been detained in German prisons because of his illegal activity. He had entered Sachsenhausen as a common prisoner and isolated by the rest of political prisoners. Burger, unlike the others, became his friend: “He was a real counterfeiter: he could retouch negatives used to produce banknotes instead of positives like a common forger does…”. While speaking Burger shows us the portrait Smolinoff had made of him, then he takes some of the fake banknotes produced in Sachsenhausen and holds them up to the light to check if the pinholes are in the Goddess Britannia medallion. Burger underlines Operation Bernhard had to be kept absolutely secret. Shak 19 and then Block 18 as well were isolated through a triple barbed wire runned across by high voltage electricity. Furthermore, when one of the prisoners fell ill, although not seriously, he was directly eliminated without going to the infirmary to avoid any possible leak of information.


Burger Adolf, Des Teufels Werkstatt: Geldfalscherwerkstatt im Sachsenhausen, Nues Leben, Berlin, 2007;
Burke Bryan, Nazi Counterfeiting of British Currency during World War II: Operation Andrew and Operation Bernhard, The Book Shop, USA, 1987;
Byatt Derrick, Promises to pay, Spink, Londra, 1994;
Girelli Gian Paolo, Falsario e testimone, Rai 3, Estovest, February 3rd and 10th 2007 episodes;
Mayer Joseph e Sem Julius, Report on forgery in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Czechoslovak Ministry of Interior, Prague, 1945, Joegen Somod, Copenhagen, 1981;
Markin Lawrence, Krueger’s Men: The Secret Nazi Counterfeit Plot and the Prisoner of Block 19, Little, Brown and Company, USA, 2006;
McNally George J., Report, January 24th 1946,


First of all I would like to thank my mentor Guido Crapanzano for teaching me determination and rigor in investigation and research and for giving me great stimulus and useful advice to proceed in paper numismatics studies; furthermore, I want to thank friends, merchants, numismatists and scholars – Walter Nasi, Franco Spinelli, Jan Gradon, Pam West, Colin and Simon Narberth, Lawrence Malkin and John Keyworth – for their help and infinite patience.

This article was first published in the Italian numismatic monthly review “CN Cronaca Numismatica”, number 204, February 2008.


Stefano Poddi



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