" Aufstehen! " In the darkest hour
before the dawn, that daily wake-up call ended the restless
sleep of every prisoner in every freezing, louse-infested
hut across the constellation of Nazi concentration camps
during the dozen years of Hitler's Reich. Whether weary,
ill, or actually dying, each miserable inmate had to tumble
instantly from a wooden bunk and run, not walk, to the camp's
central square, there to stand silent, motionless and utterly
vulnerable for the ceremony of roll call in the Appellplatz .
The humiliating ritual was designed to demonstrate the absolute
power of the SS over their prisoners' very existence. Some
prisoners keeled over and literally breathed their last,
robbing the SS of their prey as they paced wordlessly up,
down, and across the mute rows, sometimes doubling back
to review those who thought they had been passed over this
time, weeding away the weakest with a death sentence in
a nod, the flick of a finger, or one horrifying word, Raus! Out!
Avraham Krakowski, a pious young Polish accountant, survived
a typical roll call shortly after he was immured in Auschwitz
. The prisoner serving as block warden barked at his charges
to remove their caps. Immediately, they did, and the warden
reported: "Six hundred and fifty-five prisoners. Ten
dead!" The SS man reviewed the rows, counting the living
and also counting the dead. Krakowski recalled: "We
were the lucky ones. The count checked out. The Appell was
finally over. If it had not checked out, we would have been
made to stand, as later we often were, an entire day without
food in the rain or the freezing weather."
Auschwitz was an extermination camp-- Vernichtungslager in
German. Sachsenhausen, originally a punishment camp for
Communist and Social Democratic prisoners who built it with
their own hands on the suburban train line north of Berlin,
developed into a slave labor camp where prisoners mainly
were worked to death, although thousands also died from
the harsh discipline and, in the case of Russian prisoners
of war, mass executions. Prisoners were assigned to such
exacting tasks as repairing shoes and watches, and recycling
captured equipment into raw materials. As in all SS operations,
corruption was endemic; in 1941 the commandant of landlocked
Sachsenhausen had the prisoners build him a yacht, an offense
for which he was transferred to Norway . His successor,
a more practical man, used the prisoners to conduct grueling
tests on experimental shoe soles. Around a track covered
in separate lanes of gravel, cinders, sand, concrete, and
the like, about 150 prisoners circled daily for a run for
about 40 kilometers to determine the durability of different
materials, their backs sometimes weighed down by 15-kilogram
packs of sand or their feet pinched by shoes that were two
sizes too small. Such consumer research was relatively harmless
compared to the experiments in noise measurements conducted
with pistol silencers by Arthur Nebe's criminal police,
which reputedly included experimental shots into the skulls
The camp was laid out in a semicircular grid of 56 barracks
inside a triangle enclosing 18 acres of the camp's total
of 44. This triangle was delineated by a wall rising almost
nine feet and studded by nine watch towers armed with machine
guns. The barracks measured 200 by 40 feet. With slightly
peaked roofs, these blocks--or so they were called, like
prison blocks--hugged the ground and were separated by wide
spaces to enhance visibility from the principal control
tower at the base of the triangle. Just beneath it, in the
form of an inner semicircle with a radius of about 350 feet,
was the Appellplatz , ringed by the notorious running
track. To the right stood a tight rectangle of a half-dozen
rows of wooden barracks or blocks, known as the Small Camp.
These were built in 1938 to house Jews rounded up after
the Kristallnacht pogrom.
In mid-1942, the barred windows of Block No. 19 were painted
over, and the building itself, the last one in the first
row closest to headquarters, was enmeshed in a barbed-wire
netting to await its troop of specialists and their machines.
Before Bernhard Krueger could recruit his Jewish work force,
suitable guards for Block 19 had to be assigned by the SS.
Krueger had to settle at least temporarily for two quartermaster
sergeants named Herbert Marock and Heinz Weber. Both had
blemished records as cut-ups, and the SS general in charge
of personnel obviously felt the way to keep them on their
toes was to shout at them to instill fear as they apprehensively
stood at attention. This was virtually the only tool in
the SS disciplinary arsenal, but it was not Krueger's chosen
Next Krueger summoned the master printer August Petrich,
who had worked in Operation Andreas, the Nazis' first, failed
attempt at counterfeiting. At first Petrich thought that
reviving the mad counterfeiting scheme was a joke. Krueger
admitted he almost thought so, too: "Imagine, graphic
artists, engravers, repro-photographers, and so on from
Jewish inmates. I find it a unique story. Almost like an
April Fool's joke. Are there really artisans among Jews?
I thought they were traders, brokers, capable stock market
and business men, experienced doctors and lawyers, and here
and there also a police chief." Krueger informed the
equally skeptical printer that it would be his job to train
the Jews to use the machinery. In short, at Himmler's orders
he was to teach printing and engraving within six months
instead of the usual German craftsman's three-year apprenticeship.
Petrich replied: "Let's not kid ourselves. It is a
very difficult task we have to undertake, and it will cost
us a good many gray hairs. It may yet turn out all right,
it may not. The prisoners are the principal players."
And so they journeyed to Sachsenhausen. Krueger paused
to consider the inherent contradiction of the Nazis' universal
camp motto wrought into iron letters over the stone gate: Arbeit
Macht Frei -- Work Brings Freedom. He knew this was
a lie, indeed that life would turn out precisely the opposite
for those he would choose from the eighty candidates that
the camp commandant put on display for him at a roll call
in Block 19.
As Krueger approached, he heard the command "Hats
off!" and saw eighty pairs of hands being held stiffly
against the trouser seams of the blue-and-white striped
uniforms. He had never before come so close to the wretched
truth of Nazi rule. The tension and fear were evident in
the prisoners' faces as he inspected the men slowly, Petrich
at his side.
"How old are you?"
"Where do you come from?"
"Eichenberg in Bohemia ."
"Why are you here?"
"I am a Jew."
And so Krueger began the methodical work of selecting the
men on whom the future of Operation Bernhard depended. They
had no idea for what they were being selected at this decisive
roll call but they immediately noticed something different:
Krueger addressed them by the formal and polite German Sie ,
instead of the familiar and demeaning du reserved
for children, servants, and Jews under the Nazis.
Down the line he walked, selecting a professional engraver
in precious metals, a banker, a paper salesman, even a Polish
doctor to help preserve his work force. Contrary to his
expectations, he found four men from the building trades--two
carpenters, an electrician, and a mason--several specialists
in the graphic arts, and four printers.
"Where did you work?" Krueger asked one printer.
"At various Berlin firms."
"Do you want to join the others?
"Yes, sir, Herr Sturmbannfuehrer."
"Join the others"
He finally picked thirty-nine inmates instead of his planned
thirty, mainly middle-aged men, of whom about half from
various graphic trades, including a well known Berlin fashion
photographer, Norbert Levi. There was even a tall, slightly
grotesque drifter, a half-Jewish mischling who
looked like a clown and agreed to Krueger's suggestion that
he was a joker by nature; such a person would help keep
up morale. When Krueger reported the results, the commandant
said: "Four printers! Excellent! I hope they can print
what you want." Still, no one in the camp, not even
the commandant, had the least idea what was happening, and
neither Krueger nor Petrich told them. Petrich doubted he
could succeed with printers who had no experience working
with high-quality inks and who probably ground out "cheap
lottery tickets. store advertisements, calendars, business
stationery, calling cards for teenagers." Krueger reproached
him: "Think, be patient, do your duty and have a strong
will." The optimistic SS engineer said he knew German
Jews from civilian life who had fought bravely for Germany
in World War I, so why couldn't these become good printers?
Moreover, he continued, "The prisoners are most likely
not dissatisfied with the opportunity of landing in a secret
printing plant and will work doubly hard to remain in it.
Operation Andreas was easier. They just drafted the required
experts out of their positions without asking the owners
of their companies whether they liked it or not." He
did not need to remind Petrich of the fiasco that followed.
The SS guard Marock insisted from the start that Krueger
was too soft on his charges, especially since they were
Jews. "Prisoners should be handled firmly. They are
used to it," the SS quartermaster sergeant told Krueger.
What none of the others seemed to realize was that the usual
Nazi ways would not work here. Krueger was not just looking
for specialists, but individuals of intelligence and dexterity
he could train and organize for the various interlocking
tasks of engraving, printing, sorting and counting that
were essential to the success of the operation bearing his
name. Hairdressers, for example, were not chosen for their
skills or ancestry, but for their nimble fingers.
The prisoners' recollections of Krueger's selections to
fill out his team at Auschwitz match the tenor and some
of the details of his own account. At Auschwitz-Birkenau,
Moritz Nachtstern, an anarchist stereotyper who had worked
in the print shop of Dagbladet , Oslo's largest
newspaper, was told one evening late in 1942 that he and
six other print workers had been picked out by the occupations
listed on their prisoners' cards. Presumably the cards were
part of the Hollerith classification system the Germans
had adapted from a joint venture with the International
Business Machines Corporation of the United States . Nachtstern
had been listed as a printer rather than a stereotyper because
the clerk found the name of his occupation too difficult
to spell. "Printer" is a generic term often used
loosely. Used precisely it refers to a worker who actually
runs a printing press. A stereotyper is a specialist who
makes an impression from the original type and casts the
metal plates that are actually used on the press. The distinction
matters mainly inside the print shop or in union negotiations,
but in this case Nachtstern correctly sensed it might be
a matter of life and death. When Nachtstern and his comrades
arrived a couple of weeks later at Block 19, they found
that "not even a cat could have gotten through that
barbed wire netting unscathed." Krueger, wearing civilian
clothes, met them in the small exercise yard outside the
"Good day, gentlemen. I think you'll like it here.
What's your trade?
That first question was addressed to Fritz Schnapper, a
German who had arrived with Nachtstern.
"Printer," he replied, confounded by Krueger's
polite demeanor and formal usage.
"Excellent, sir," Krueger replied, turning to
Nachtstern, who announced his trade truthfully but not without
"Ah, stereotyper. Splendid, sir," mused the Nazi
official. "I shall have good use for you."
Krueger patted a relieved Nachtstern on the shoulder and
walked off with a friendly nod.
Around the same time, Avraham Krakowski found himself before
Krueger in a line of 100 Auschwitz prisoners placed in rows
of five abreast. He watched Krueger pick Mordka Tuchmajer,
a printer from Poland, who in turn asked for his brother
to go along so they could stay together, even though his
brother was a furniture varnisher. The brother was named
David Marjanka, also a Pole, and may or may not have been
related to Tuchmajer, who was seven years younger. Nevertheless
Krueger amiably replied, "All right, put his number
down, too." As the line shortened, and men from printing
and allied trades were selected, Krakowski reckoned he had
been called by mistake. After 25 men were picked, Krueger
ordered:"Enough!" But then he impulsively decided
he needed a few more, and for some unknown reason, which
Krakowski attributed to no less than divine intervention,
Krueger spotted him.
"You over there, come on up here. I'd like to talk
Krakowski stood before him.
"How old are you?"
"What kind of work do you do?"
"I'm an accountant."
"Let me see your hands."
Although roughened by forced labor, they remained soft
enough to convince Krueger.
"Take down his number, too."
Krakowski became the thirty-first and last choice; of those
thirty-one, nineteen had been selected earlier that morning
for the gas chamber.
Max Groen and his boyhood friend Dries Bosboom had been
picked up in their native Amsterdam for breaking curfew
and shipped to Auschwitz, where they were among only 38
of their transport of 1,150 souls to survive. One day Dries
was asked a curious question by an SS corporal. Had he worked
in the graphics industry? Yes, he was a lithographer by
trade. At that precise moment the gong sounded for a selection,
but before it could begin the corporal stuck in his head
in the barracks and asked if anyone else had worked in graphics. " Jawohl,
ich! " shouted Max. He was a newsreel cameraman,
but what difference did that make? Dries whispered to Max
that he must say he was a litho-photographer because he
could handle a camera, and not a photo-lithographer because
that skill took years to learn.
In the office the two Dutch Jews were called before an
authoritative SS major whom they found suspiciously well
mannered. The major did not give his name and asked a number
of questions as if he were interviewing them for a job.
When he reached Groen, he asked about his skills in photo
retouching. Groen had absolutely no idea what to say. At
that moment, he recalled a trashy romance novel on his mother's
kitchen table with two words referring to some obscure reproduction
process about which he knew nothing.
"American retouching," Groen blurted out.
The officer nodded knowledgeably: "Ah, you mean positive
In the blink of an eye, Groen's life had been spared by
Krueger, for of course it was he. Max and Dries were put
on a train to Berlin with 60 others in a third-class carriage
with wooden seats and windows. The mere fact that it was
not a boxcar made the ride a luxury.
Not until they reached Sachsenhausen did any of the prisoners
know why they were there. Groen, quick and wily, needed
little time to discover the purpose of the secret print
shop through the classic prison "jungle tom-tom" whose
beats he could read so well. He also learned of the fatal
sword of Damocles that hung over all their heads. Nachtstern
discovered the purpose of the place from Marock shortly
after his interview with Krueger. The boastful sergeant
picked up a counterfeit five-pound note in Block 19 and
preened before the new prisoners: "We have beaten England
in the military field. Now, with the notes, we shall also
ruin their economy. They have dropped counterfeit bread-ration
coupons over Germany from the air. We shall reply with these
notes, until inflation is over them like a storm."
The idea that a team of printers, graphic artists, and accountants, all bearing the Nazi equivalent of the mark of Cain, would be employed in what might otherwise be a vast criminal enterprise and then disposed of as casually as a herd of cattle, at first seemed no crime at all in the murderous context of a concentration camp. To the prisoners themselves it seemed a blessing or at least an opportunity to mitigate the harshness of their treatment.
The original draft of thirty-nine prisoners, swept into an incomprehensible situation, at first felt humiliated and whispered among themselves: "What will others say when they think of us as counterfeiters?" These were, after all, Jews who had earned respectability in the alien society of pre-war Europe. At first some saw an opportunity for revenge, most forcefully Max Bober, a tough Berlin printer.
With the lights out and the guards withdrawn, Bober argued for the "silent satisfaction" of sabotage by sloppy work in this "swinish operation." He urged his comrades: "You must not be resigned to allowing a pitiful crown to be pressed on our heads. We now have a weapon in our hands we must use...We know nothing about whether our wives and children are alive or dead."
This emotional appeal was countered by the cooler logic of Jaroslav Kaufmann, a Czech dentist, who warned that they would be betting their "whole bankroll"--their very lives. He argued: "The Nazis will need more and more of this bogus money, so they will need us increasingly. If you sabotage, they won't need us any more and will kill us with this secret."
Kaufmann won them over. Bober, with his expansive personality, became the barracks major-domo and helped initiate newcomers into the agreed method of survival. Sabotage was never again contemplated until the final days of the war made stalling worthwhile, although even that had its limits.
Krueger had his own nuanced view. He clearly thought of the operation as a soldier's duty but also an onerous challenge that might endanger himself if he failed. But he was cool enough never to offer a hint of that as he faced his workers for the first time at Sachsenhausen. Mostly, he hoped that the shock and relief of their sudden reversal of fortune would win them over and turn them into motivated, industrious workers. He addressed them to introduce Petrich and the two guardroom sergeants, and to alert them that he and they alike were working under Himmler's special orders. He continued:
Those of you who have long and involuntarily been out of
professional life because of your incarceration have an
advantage, because you will be working with modern, complicated
machinery and will first have to learn the techniques under
the supervision and guidance of Master Printer Petrich.
You will begin with simple printing tasks.
Always remain aware of the proper performance of your tasks.
I put the greatest value on smooth cooperation. Practice
this within and outside your community. The perspectives
of your camp service are different from before. SS Unterscharfuehrers
Marock and Weber are responsible for supervising your work.
You are always to turn [first] to them. Both are obligated
to treat you correctly and are answerable for order in Block
Work begins daily at 7 o'clock and ends at 4 o'clock .
Lunchtime is from 12 to 1 p.m. There is no work on Sunday.
If you have complaints, whatever their nature, tell me.
I am also available for personal questions.
As of today, you are freed from participation in camp roll
call. Did you understand me?
The prisoners replied to this blessed release with a rousing