Beyond Borders

Adam Shatz on Adolfo Kaminsky in the LRB:

In the spring​ of 1944, a young man was stopped at a checkpoint of the Pétainist milice outside the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro station. According to his identity card, he was Julien Keller, aged seventeen, a dyer, born in the département of the Creuse. The bag he was carrying contained dozens of other fake identity papers. But he was confident that the police had no idea how frightened he was because he had learned to affect an air of serenity. ‘I also knew, with certainty, that my papers were in order,’ he recalled many years later. After all, ‘I was the one who had made them.’

‘Julien Keller’ was the nom de guerre of Adolfo Kaminsky, who died in Paris last month aged 97. It was largely thanks to him that the German-occupied zone of wartime France was flooded with false documents. The Occupation authorities were on his trail, but they never suspected that the forger they were after was a teenager. (He was actually eighteen, but claimed to be a year younger to avoid conscription into the Compulsory Work Service.) Kaminsky worked out of a laboratory on the rue des Saints-Pères, disguised as an artist’s studio. Housed in a tiny attic, it belonged to the ‘6th’, a secret section of the General Union of Israelites of France (UGIF), an organisation the Vichy regime had set up and financed with money and property confiscated from Jews. The UGIF pretended to be a humanitarian outfit but would be instrumental in organising the deportation of the Jewish population. The network of the 6th set out to undermine its parent organisation, resisting the Occupation and forging links with various Resistance groups: communists, Zionists and supporters of Charles de Gaulle. Over the course of the war, the 6th helped to save as many as ten thousand Jews from deportation.

More here.