ISBN: 978 1 84603 289 9
Review Date:

Full Title: Counterfeiter: How a Norwegian Jew Survived the Holocaust

On the surface, we study history because it interests us. The powerful warships, the larger-than-life figures, and the world-changing events are some of the first things that I think about right off the top of my head when someone asks me why I study the history of World War II. But once I really start thinking about it, history is more than that. History is how all those things shape our lives, and I try to remind myself of that every so often. That is why I make sure that a book such as Counterfeiter: How a Norwegian Jew Survived the Holocaust gets in my to-read pile every so many books.

Counterfeiter is written by Moritz Nachtstern, a Norwegian typographer who, because he was Jewish, was rounded up and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. His profession brought him into Operation Bernhard, a Nazi German plan to destabilize the British economy by introducing large quantities of counterfeit bills. Skills with various steps of printing gave Nachtstern and his fellow Operation Bernhard colleagues slightly better chance of survival as they were the skilled labor force needed for the counterfeiting operation, but to say that belittles what they experienced. Although they were essentially German operatives from a certain sense, they were not much better off from other concentration camp inmates. They worked long days in front of their stations, were sadistically punished whenever they make the slightest mistakes, and were fed with nothing more than watery soups, sometimes full of sand or even bugs.

The story was about Nachtstern's struggle for survival, but his sense of humor made his book about such a difficult subject a tad bit less difficult to read. Accounts of a prisoner smearing coal dust on others' faces as a prank and the prisoners singing songs from their native lands provided the readers escape from the horror that was the Holocaust. Amongst stories of human suffering such as starvation, disease, and the gas chambers, these lighter moments reminded me the strength of the human spirit even under the most terrible conditions.

"It cannot be erased", titled the forward to the book written by Nachtstern's daughter Sidsel. When she was younger, her father read her fairy tales and taught her nursery rhymes just like every father, but he had to constantly suppress the haunting memories of Holocaust. He ate his food as if his plate would be taken from him, whenever he sat he could never fully relax so that he could escape at a moment's notice, and his survivor's guilt materialized in nightmares that woke him in cold sweat. These are the things that cannot be erased, and that is what history really is. History is not just world changing events. History is not just stories of valor or sadness. History is what makes up a person. To historian Eric Hobsbawn, WW2 was the memory of seeing newspaper headlines of Adolf Hitler's rise to power. To this gentleman I met while on vacation in 2006, WW2 was him, as a young boy, playing in the rice paddies in China while Japanese fighters flew above him. To my grandmother, WW2 was not quite the world-changing conflict, but rather a series of tragedies that uprooted her family and separated her from her children. To Moritz Nachtstern, the reluctant counterfeiter, WW2 was his fight for survival, and Counterfeiter told his story in a simple manner that nevertheless triggered deepest emotions.

Back to Main | Back to Book Reviews Index

Did you enjoy this article or find this article helpful? If so, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.

Share this article with your friends:


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments
Security Code



1. We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

2. For inquiries about military records for members of the World War II armed forces, please see our FAQ.

A review copy or review sample of this product was provided by the publisher or vendor to WW2DB; opinions expressed in this review are not influenced by this fact.

Search WW2DB & Partner Sites
More on Counterfeiter
Related Events:
» Discovery of Concentration Camps and the Holocaust

Famous WW2 Quote
"All that silly talk about the advance of science and such leaves me cold. Give me peace and a retarded science."

Thomas Dodd, late 1945

Support Us

Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 a month will go a long way. Thank you!

Or, please support us by purchasing some WW2DB merchandise at TeeSpring, Thank you!