Adolfo Kaminsky, wartime forger who saved thousands of Jews, dies

In one of his most remarkable feats, the Jewish Parisien managed to save 300 children in an orphanage by providing them with 900 fake documents within three days.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Adolfo Kaminsky, an ordinary man who became a skilled forger in World War II Paris and saved thousands of Jewish lives, many of them children, by providing them with fake documents, died Monday aged 97.

Working both as an apprentice clothes dyer and assistant to a chemist to earn money in his hometown in Normandy, Kaminsky had learned how to remove stains and dissolve blue ink. This seemingly unremarkable skill became invaluable when it turned out that the authorities used that kind of ink in the identity documents and ration cards that people were forced to carry after the Germans set up their puppet French Vichy regime in 1940.

The 18-year-old changed the names on them to sound non-Jewish, which would give their holders a chance to escape the French police that collaborated with their Nazi overlords in hunting down Jews.

Kaminsky even pressed his own paper and fabricated all sorts of typefaces, water-stamps and rubber stamps to counterfeit whole documents from scratch that could pass muster with the authorities. He and his group of equally brave forgers in the Resistance of course provided travel permits, credentials, passports and ID cards to their fellow Resistance fighters as well. They became so proficient that they were eventually taking orders for documents from partisans in other parts of German-occupied Europe.

In one of his most remarkable feats, the Jewish Parisien managed to save 300 children living in French institutions by providing each one with a fake birth and baptismal certificate and ration card – 900 counterfeit documents in all. He had three days.

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“It was impossible,” he said in a 2016 New York Times documentary called simply, “The Forger.” “The math was simple. In one hour I made 30 fake documents. If I slept for an hour, 30 people would die…. So I worked, worked, worked until I passed out.” When he woke up, he continued, constantly fearing, he said, that if he made a technical mistake because he was so tired, someone would die.

They made the deadline, he said, “but just in time.”

In the film, Kaminsky described what motivated him to undertake such dangerous work and become one of the most wanted men in Paris.

“Of course, everything I did was illegal,” he said. “But when something legal is completely against humanity, you have to fight.”

“If I was caught, I would have been imprisoned and killed,” he said at another point. That wasn’t as great a consideration for him as what he immediately added: “If I was captured, a lot of people would have died.”

He estimated that he and his group saved some 10,000 people in all during the war.

Kaminsky used his skills to help Jews – and others – after the war as well. He forged documents that enabled Jews to fight the British in pre-State Israel, and those fighting for their freedom or escaping from such places as French Algeria and South Africa. He even faked papers for Americans who wanted to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War.

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He finally retired from the forgery business in the 1970s and became a photographer.

Kaminsky is survived by his wife and three children from his second marriage, one child from his first marriage, and nine grandchildren.