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How a skillful 'forger' saved thousands of lives by creating fake passports during World War II

With a strong belief that every life matters, the great 'forger' ardently helped Jews escape the persecution of Nazis during World War II.

How a skillful 'forger' saved thousands of lives by creating fake passports during World War II
Cover Image Source: nationalww2museum.com

Adolfo Kaminsky is a name that means a lot to Jews who escaped the oppression of Nazis during World War II and their descendants. He was the one who used his unique talent, learned while working at a dry cleaner, to save the lives of around 14,000 Jewish men, women, and children. With his magnanimous and selfless efforts, he proved that sometimes, learning the art of deception can be used for ethical purposes too. What did he do? He gave thousands of Jews hope for a new future by forging passports and documents for them. Recently, The National World War II Museum recognized the life-saving forgery by Kaminsky, who was known to be one of the greatest rescuers during World War II. 

Image Source: Vel d'Hiv deportation: in the night of 15th and 16th July 1942, 9000 policemen and French officers arrested in Paris and in the suburbs 12884 Jews including 4051 children. They were all taken to the Drancy camps, Pithiviers or Beaune-la-Rolande before being deported to Auschwitz. (Photo by Antoine GYORI/Sygma via Getty Images)
Image Source: Vel d'Hiv deportation: On the night of 15th and 16th July 1942, 9000 policemen and French officers were arrested in Paris and the suburbs 12884 Jews including 4051 children. They were all taken to the Drancy camps, Pithiviers, or Beaune-la-Rolande before being deported to Auschwitz. (Photo by Antoine GYORI/Sygma via Getty Images)

In the museum's International Conference in 2022, historian Sarah Bennett Farmer speculated that more than 14,000 Jews were saved from deportation to the Nazi extermination camps because of Kaminsky’s forgeries during World War II. Most of these survivors were children.

Kaminsky's parents were Russian Jews who were expelled from France for their socialist views. So, when they were living in Argentina, they welcomed a son in 1925 who later became the master forger. The family eventually moved to Paris in 1932 during the Great Depression and Kaminsky had to take up a labor job in an aircraft instrument manufacturing factory. However, the Nazi invasion of Paris in 1940 threatened the lives of Kaminskys. That is when he lost his job in the factory and began working for a dry cleaner, where his forging skills spawned. He was astute in changing the colors and removing stains from garments while also contributing to the French Resistance. 

An electrified barbed-wire fence separates male and female prisoners at a German concentration camp. A Nazi guard keeps watch in the foreground. The inmates appear to be in relatively good health at this point in their internment, indicating they may have arrived recently at the camp. | Location: Eastern Europe or Germany. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Image Source: An electrified barbed-wire fence separates male and female prisoners at a German concentration camp. A Nazi guard keeps watch in the foreground. | Location: Eastern Europe or Germany. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

In 1943, the Kaminskys faced an uphill battle when they were arrested and deported to the Nazi camp in Drancy. However, the family's Argentinian citizenship rescued them from the dreadful camp, after which the Kaminskys' obtained forged documents from a Jewish Resistance group to save their lives. As per the New York Times, it was while picking up these documents that Kaminsky's journey of forging began. As an 18-year-old, he suggested to an agent in the group that lactic acid would help remove blue ink from documents and because of this, he was invited to work for the group. Since then, Kaminsky, along with the resistance group, saved countless lives, most of which were children. "It’s a simple calculation: In one hour I can make 30 blank documents; if I sleep for an hour, 30 people will die," the forger told the media.

Image Source: Pexels | Matthias Zomer
Image Source: Pexels | Matthias Zomer

Under the pseudonym Julien Keller, Kaminsky was operating from a secret laboratory in Paris, risking his life to save many who were about to be deported to Nazi camps. The most heartwarming part about his contribution to the French Resistance was that he never charged money for his services. He believed that the documents he created held the lives of many innocents out there. "I saved lives because I can’t deal with unnecessary deaths, I just can’t. All humans are equal, whatever their origins, their beliefs and their skin color. There are no superiors, no inferiors. That is not acceptable to me," he had shared. Even in his teens, he was the master of recreating typefaces, photo engraving and removing blue ink to fabricate birth certificates, passports and ration cards.

Image Source: Adolfo and Sarah Kaminsky, writer, Roma, Italy, 2011. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)
Image Source: Adolfo and Sarah Kaminsky, writer, Roma, Italy, 2011. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)

Even after saving so many precious lives, Kaminsky was concerned about the ones he couldn't save. "The smallest error and you send someone to prison or death. It’s a great responsibility. It’s heavy. It’s not at all a pleasure," he said and added, "I think mostly of the people that I couldn’t save." After living a remarkable life, Kaminsky breathed his last at the age of 97 at his home in Paris on January 9, 2023. His daughter Sarah Kaminsky published his biography "Adolfo Kaminsky: A Forger’s Life," which speaks about his meticulous effort to save the Jews. Also, in 2016, the New York Times made a documentary about him - "The Forger" - which was a News and Documentary Emmy Award in 2017. 



 

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