The master ‘forger’ who saved thousands of lives during WW-II by creating fake passports in a hidden lab

Adolfo Kaminsky ended up saving more than 14,000 lives by creating secret identities for Jews fleeing persecution.

“If I slept for one hour, 30 people would die,” said Kaminsky once, well aware that every hour he stayed up working meant more Jews would be saved from the persecution of Nazis. Kaminsky saved more than 14,000 Jews during World War II. The Argentine photographer created secret passports and new identities to help Jews. It just goes to show that deception when utilized effectively can be a force of good. Kaminsky, who passed away in January 2023, is now recognized as one of the lesser-known heroes of the Holocaust. Born in October 1925, Kaminsky specialized in creating fake documents. According to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, he developed the skills to forge during his time at a job where he had to clean stains in a dye shop. During the war, he worked day and night in his secluded workshop to save lives. Post-French resistance, he also forged documents for the Algerian National Liberation Front and French draft dodgers during the Algerian War. He continued forging papers for nearly thirty years for different activist groups, mainly national liberation fronts, without ever seeking any remuneration.


It was the death of his mother Anna Kaminsky that spurred him to save as many people as possible. His mother was killed shortly after warning her brother that Nazis were on his trail. His parents Salomon and Anna Kaminsky were Russian Jews. They were a key cog in the Jewish workers’ movement in the Russian Empire. Adolfo worked in a dye shop in Calvados and was often intrigued by the chemistry of colorants. In a documentary filmed by The New York Times, he claims that he discovered the magic of color while working in the dye shop. Fascinated, he even bought a treatise by Marcellin Berthelot, a famed French chemist, at a flea market. He later created a laboratory at his uncle’s house and worked in a butter factory as an assistant to a chemist who taught him the basics of the trade.



When the German invasion of France broke out in 1940, Kaminsky started working in an underground laboratory in Paris where he spent the rest of the WWII time, forging identity papers for Jews. He was introduced to the Resistance group while seeking a false ID for his father. The group was experiencing issues with removing Waterman’s blue ink stains from papers. Kaminsky suggested they use lactic acid and it worked. He was inducted into the group and became a master in chemical forgery. Kaminsky knew how vital his contribution was “Stay awake. As long as possible. Struggle against sleep. The calculation is easy. In one hour, I make 30 false papers. If I sleep one hour, 30 people will die,” he said in the documentary. At this point, he was crafting over 900 documents within three days to save hundreds of Jews, primarily children.

 Kaminsky was awarded the “Medal of the Resistance” for helping thousands of Jews. His daughter, Sarah Kaminsky, has penned a book capturing his legacy. The book was titled “Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life.” Kaminsky passed away in his home in Paris at the age of 97.



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