Adolfo Kaminsky, today credited with saving the lives of over 14,000 Jews, was an accomplished forger and photographer, and one of the lesser-known Jewish heroes of the Holocaust.
Kaminsky put his forgery skills to work for the French-Jewish resistance, specializing in the creation of identity documents. He developed many of the needed skills to work as a forger during his time spent removing stains in a dye shop. During the war, in his covert laboratory, Kaminsky worked tirelessly, often for days and nights at a time, making calculations and sacrifices that would save as many lives as he could. Kaminsky later recalled his thinking,
An International Beginning
Kaminsky’s parents, Anna (née Kinoël) and Salomon Kaminsky, were Russian Jews who had each immigrated to Paris, where they met in 1916. However, in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Kaminskys were considered suspicious “reds” in Paris and decided to take refuge in Argentina, where Adolfo Kaminsky was born on October 1, 1925.
The Kaminsky family returned to France in 1932 and it was in Paris that Adolfo Kaminsky finished his elementary school education and joined the workforce to help support his struggling family.
Kaminsky found a job at a dye shop, where he said he “discovered the magic of color.” Fascinated by the chemical processes behind stain removals, Kaminsky often experimented on his own, and took a side job as a chemist’s assistant at a dairy factory to learn more about the science. Kaminsky discovered at this factory that lactic acid worked well at dissolving Waterman blue ink, a trick that came in handy in his later work as a forger.
World War II, Internment, and Resistance
When the Nazis occupied France during World War II, the Kaminskys fled to the countryside and evaded capture by the Nazis for more than 2 years. Adolfo Kaminsky’s world shattered when his mother was murdered by the Nazis for warning her brother about an impending arrest by Nazi authorities. The rest of the family’s luck would soon run out, too: they were arrested on October 22, 1943 and transferred to Drancy, an internment camp located in a northeastern suburb of Paris that served as a transition point before the death camps.
By luck, the Kaminsky family was saved by intervention of the Argentine consulate; their Argentinian passports granted them passage out of Drancy. Even so, danger was always close, and they knew their passports could not protect them forever.
Seeing an opportunity to contribute to the Resistance with his scientific knowledge, Kaminsky joined “La Sixième,” a Jewish underground rescue network. With quill, ink, and stamps, Kaminsky forged identification and food ration cards for the French Resistance, replacing Jewish-sounding names with gentile-sounding ones. Kaminsky often worked for hours on end in a secret lab on these forged documents, at one point making over 900 documents within three days to save 300 Jewish children.
His work allowed many Jewish people to escape deportation to concentration camps, avoid arrest, and leave the country for .
After the war , Kaminsky’s skill and work were known and sought broadly in underground communities. Because of the nature of the work, he largely remained quiet and stayed out of the spotlight for fear of discovery. This way, he continued forging papers to support resistance fighters and anti-colonial groups in Algeria, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Santo Domingo, Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, and more.
Kaminsky’s work took a significant toll on his health and personal life far beyond his sleep schedule. He sacrificed time with family, and ultimately went blind in one eye from his labor-intensive focus. Still, Kaminsky claimed no regrets, saying, “
Eventually after the encouragement of his children to share his story with the world, Kaminsky stepped out of the shadows, and the extent of his efforts became known. For his work in the French Resistance, Kaminsky was awarded several distinctions including the Medal of the Resistance. His daughter, Sarah Kaminsky, has worked to highlight her father’s legacy, lecturing internationally about his work, including at an event with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, as well as writing his life story in the book, Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life. Kaminsky died earlier this year, at 97 years old, on January 9, 2023.
As we at the Museum highlight those individuals who worked, based on their skills and abilities, to make collective change and to save lives, we celebrate Kaminsky’s work and legacy.