Seeking to sabotage Britain’s economy in World War II, the Nazis “flooded” Europe with fake British bank notes, according to secret documents released today by British intelligence agency MI5.
And though M15 didn’t know it at the time, the fake bills “were being made at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp by prisoners, many of whom were Jewish,” according to BBCNews.
BBCNews’s Sanchia Berg wrote that she met met one of those unwitting forgers, Adolph Burger, in 2007. “He proudly showed me one of his £5 notes. On watermarked paper, with elegant copperplate script, and engraving of Britannia, it was a perfect counterfeit. He knew, because there was a pinhole in the Britannia, that it was a Sachsenhausen product. The prisoners had marked these notes.”
The Nazis’ tactic succeeded at destroying confidence in British banknotes, the declassified documents reveal. “What they produced was a type of forgery so skilful that it is impossible for anyone other than a specially trained expert to detect the difference between them and genuine notes,” M15’s Sir Edward Reid reported in 1945. The result: “By the end of the six-year conflict, the fakes were so rife they were not accepted in mainland Europe,” according to Agence France-Presse.
Reid’s 1945 report said “the forgers produced counterfeit sterling with a face value of £134 million — the equivalent of 10 percent of all sterling in circulation.”