A Forger’s Life – Book Review

by Oletta Branstiter


Rebel With a Cause

Sarah Kaminsky’s revelations of a rebel with a cause have finally been translated into English. Originally published in French in 2009, this focused biography of her father peels back the layers of a serial criminal whose forgeries spanned almost three decades. The actress and screenwriter was born in Algeria but grew up in France with her mature father and young Tuareg mother. 

Using a first-person narrative, prompted by unobtrusive and infrequent questions of a curious daughter, Adolfo Kaminsky unravels the deceptions in his dedication to thwarting oppressive regimes.

When Being a Jew was a Crime

As an Argentine Jew with Russian origins, living in France during the Nazi occupation, Kaminsky had many hard choices to make to preserve his fragile existence. While still a teen, he learned that his mother had been assassinated in a staged train accident in punishment for contacting her brother, who had been arrested.

French Jews were rounded up and incarcerated under inhumane conditions at the Drancy Internment Camp. The Kaminsky family’s Argentine papers saved them from an extended stay and the almost certain death of the infamous concentration camps of the Holocaust.

Forging Freedom

Adolfo was an enterprising young man, seeking knowledge where he could find it, even under the most grueling circumstances. He studied mathematics from a professor imprisoned with him in Drancy, and chemistry from an anti-Semite for whom he worked upon his release.

Upon a request from his father to research the processes and possibilities of forging documents, young Kaminsky found his calling. As he worked tirelessly to produce undetectable documents that would protect rebels and innocents alike from the malevolent campaigns of despots, he lost family, friends, and comrades in the cause. The motivation to work day and night, risking danger every day, was the thought that producing one more flawless piece of identification could save a life.

He participated in the French Resistance without resorting to violence. As a pacifist, he dedicated his extended waking hours to producing forged identification records that would preserve tens of thousands of lives, not only during the Nazi regime but throughout the turbulent, worldwide political disturbances of the 1950s and 1960s. His renowned work within underground efforts even included forged documents for those who wanted to avoid the Vietnam War.

A Story for All Time

Due to the informal narrative style of the biography, the timeline is difficult to follow. This, along with the abbreviated nature of the story may be the reader’s only disappointments.

Romantic and familial relationships were continually strained and damaged for the duration of his clandestine pursuits. His photography, while full of progressive artistic potential, was sacrificed to a degree by being utilized as a front for his criminal activities.

An intensely private man, by necessity, may have prevented a more dramatic and insightful journey into the intrigues of his personal life during his services as an expert forger.

A book well worth the time of anyone interested in history, “A Forger’s Life” reveals the reality of those faced with making life-changing choices in the midst of daily dangers. Kaminsky found himself fighting for the Communists because it was better than not fighting the Socialists. Real life is never easy.

Questions to be Answered

Readers may be faced with their own questions: What sacrifices would I make in the face of an existential threat? Equally important: What skills do I possess that would benefit a rebellion to tyranny? This is how each person answers his or her own calling in history.

 

Readers may be interested in reading more about the Nazi occupation of France in the book, Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay, also made into a movie in 2011.

 

 

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