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Adolfo Kaminsky, 97: Forger of Identity Documents Saved Thousands of Jews

Adolfo Kaminsky’s talent was as banal as could be: He knew how to remove supposedly indelible blue ink from paper. But it was a skill that helped save the lives of thousands of Jews in France during World War II.

He had learned how to remove such stains as a teenager working for a clothes dyer and dry cleaner in his Normandy town. When he joined the anti-Nazi resistance at 18, his expertise enabled him to erase Jewish-sounding names like Abraham or Isaac that were officially inscribed on French ID and food ration cards, and substitute them with typically gentile-sounding ones.

The forged documents allowed Jewish children, their parents and others to escape deportation to Auschwitz and other concentration camps, and in many cases to flee Nazi-occupied territory for safe havens.

At one point, Mr. Kaminsky was asked to produce 900 birth and baptismal certificates and ration cards for 300 Jewish children in institutional homes who were about to be rounded up. The aim was to deceive the Germans until the children could be smuggled out to rural families or convents, or to Switzerland and Spain. He was given three days to finish the assignment.

He toiled for two straight days, forcing himself to stay awake by telling himself: “In one hour I can make 30 blank documents. If I sleep for an hour 30 people will die.”

Mr. Kaminsky died on Monday at his home in Paris, his daughter Sarah Kaminsky said. He was 97.

His story reads like something out of a spy novel.

Using the pseudonym Julien Keller, Mr. Kaminsky was a key operative in a Paris underground laboratory whose members — all working for no pay and risking a quick death if discovered — adopted aliases like Water Lily, Penguin and Otter, and often contrived documents from scratch.

Mr. Kaminsky learned to fashion various typefaces, a skill he had picked up in elementary school while editing a school newspaper, and was able to imitate those used by the authorities. He pressed paper so that it, too, resembled the kind used on official documents, and photoengraved his own rubber stamps, letterheads and watermarks.

Read entire article at New York Times