The French-Argentine photographer Adolfo Kaminsky has died: he lived in Paris and was 97 years old. Kaminsky participated in the French Resistance specializing in the forgery of identity documents. He was nicknamed “the counterfeiter of Paris” and saved thousands of Jewish children from deportation.
Adolfo Kaminsky was born on October 1, 1925 in Buenos Aires into a Jewish family from Russia. He followed his parents to Paris in 1932 where he started working in a print shop and then in a dry cleaners. He was arrested with his family by the Nazis on October 22, 1943: he was interned in the Caen prison and then transferred to the Drancy camp, near Paris, the departure point for the trains to Auschwitz. He was released in January 1944 thanks to the intervention of the Argentine consulate.
Coming into contact with a group of French Resistance fighters, he was quickly recruited for his skills with color and ink. Under the pseudonym Julien Keller he worked in a clandestine laboratory that manufactured false identity documents: «In an hour, I could make thirty false documents. If I had slept for an hour, thirty people would have died,” he said in a 2016 documentary from New York Timestitled “The Forger”.
In a 2014 interview with Manifest he said he became a forger after leaving the Drancy camp in 1944: «We were alive, but we wouldn’t have stayed alive for long if we hadn’t had new documents to escape the Nazi roundups. So, to get hold of fake IDs, I got in touch with the Resistance. At that point I realized, by chance, that my knowledge of chemistry, at the time I was working in a dry cleaner’s and studying how to mix inks, could be useful to someone. I had risked being killed and I knew that being able to count on well-made documents could make all the difference. So I engaged in that work day and night.”
After the Liberation he helped Holocaust survivors who wanted to reach Palestine. He worked for the French military intelligence services, but left his job at the beginning of the Indochina War, fought between November 1946 and July 1954 between the French colonial army and the movement led by Ho Chi Minh, who wanted the independence of Vietnam. Kaminsky refused to take part in a colonial war.CopyAMP code.
He came into contact with French networks in solidarity with the National Liberation Front in Algeria and then with exponents of many other liberation movements in Africa and Latin America. From then on, and for almost thirty years, he continued to work as a forger in the service of numerous political causes by providing false documents to the persecuted by the Argentine, Greek, Nicaraguan, Spanish, Portuguese regimes, and also for American deserters who did not want to fight in Vietnam: «Since 1967 I have worked for rebels and fighters from more than fifteen different countries, from Angola to Chile, passing through young Americans who wanted to go into hiding so as not to go and fight in Vietnam. And without forgetting the anti-fascists of Greece, Spain and Portugal who were still living under the dictatorship,” he told al Manifest.
Kaminsky always refused to be paid for forging documents and made a living as a photographer. He said he decided to suspend his political activity when he felt he no longer knew who he was working for: «It happened in the early 1970s. At the time I was working on passports for black militants from South Africa who were due to re-enter the country but who were on a list of opponents wanted by the apartheid authorities. Within a week, representatives from three different organizations showed up to ask me for documents for the same people, all heading to Pretoria. Furthermore, some of them offered to pay me when it was known to all that I considered that work as part of a fight for freedom. I felt that something was wrong. Either those groups were waging some war against each other that I had no desire to participate in, or the police were behind it all. They wanted to frame me. At that point I decided to quit. Three days later I was on a plane bound for Algiers, where I stayed for more than ten years.’
In Algiers he met his future wife with whom he had five children. One of his daughters, Sarah Kaminsky, recounted her father’s life in a biography published in 2009: “Adolfo Kaminsky. Une vie de faussaire” released in Italy in 2011 by Angelo Colla Editore.