A heroic Jewish forger in WWII Berlin

The Forger
Louis Hofmann as Cioma Schönhaus. Image supplied

The Forger (Der Passfälscher)
Written and directed by Maggie Peren
Stars Louis Hofmann, Jonathan Berlin, Luna Wedler, Nina Gummich, Marc Limpach, André Jung, Yotam Ishay, Luc Feit, Jeanne Werner, Joscha Schönhaus
In German with English subtitles
Showing nationally as part of the German Film Festival

During World War II, many Jews — as shown in the 2017 docudrama, The Invisibles — managed to live in the centre of Nazi power, Berlin, by using their guile to evade recognition.

The Forger is based on the memoir of one of these "invisibles", the dare-devil, graphic-artist-turned-document-forger, Cioma Schönhaus (Louis Hofmann). It also draws upon interviews with him in The Invisibles.

The Forger is both a tragedy and a daring adventure, borne along by Hofmann’s uncanny portrayal of Schönhaus’s ability to charm authorities while internally weighing up the odds of discovery.

The film shows Schönhaus as initially spared deportation, unlike the rest of his family, because he is working in a munitions factory. But slowly the realisation dawns that his parents will not be returning and that it is only time before the Gestapo comes for him.

He is recruited into a circle of artists using their skills to create identity papers and passports for Jews on the run. The forging ring is run by the anti-Nazi Confessing Church.

The Forger is a psychological thriller, centred on the individuals’ survival choices. For example: Can a Jewish woman forced to sleep with Nazi officers to get rations, jeopardise her own precarious situation to aid another Jew?

Schönhaus chooses to hide in plain sight, going to the best restaurants and clubs with a supremely confident smile on his face. More than that, at a crucial moment, he is capable of passing himself off as a Gestapo operative.

At the start of the film, the war is in the background, with Cioma and his friends’ ingenuity and survival at the fore. Gradually its presence becomes more pervasive, its reality conveyed in mounting tensions, food shortages, air-raid sirens, bombings and the increasingly violent repression of a desperate regime.

Phoney documents forged by Schönhaus were responsible for more than 300 Jews escaping the Nazis, so he is one of the heroes of WWII. The Forger is a fitting memorial to his boldness.

Watch The Forger trailer here.