Adolfo Kaminsky, A Forger’s Life
By Sarah Kaminsky
Translated by Mike Mitchell
Photographs by Adolfo Kaminsky
First English Edition of the French Best-Seller
as seen on 60 MINUTES with ANDERSON COOPER
256 pages with 28 illustrations.
2016. Hardcover and paperback.
Ebook also available.
$26.95 | 9780997003406
$18.95 | 9780997003475
The gripping true story of an erstwhile forger who worked for the French Resistance, the Algerian Independence Movement, and numerous clandestine organizations over the span of nearly thirty years. Written by his daughter, this dramatic story offers a rare look into the personal sacrifices of an idealist, the effect of one man’s political commitments on his family, his ingenious methods for creating forgeries, and his unending hopes for peace and justice in an increasingly violent world. Published with support from the Centre National du Livre and from l’Institut Français.
Watch the remarkable short documentary produced by The New York Times, which won a 2017 Emmy Award.
“At a moment when someone’s passport, or religion, can still mean the difference between life and death,
Mr. Kaminsky’s story remains painfully relevant, but inspiring.”
– Filmmakers Samantha Stark, Alexandra Garcia and Pamela Druckerman (Times article).
At the age of seventeen Adolfo Kaminsky had narrowly escaped deportation to Auschwitz and was living in Nazi occupied Paris, using forged documents to hide in plain sight. Due to his expert knowledge of dyes and his ability to masterfully re-produce official documents with an artistic eye, he was recruited to join the Jewish underground. He soon became the primary forger for the Resistance in Paris, working tirelessly with his network to create papers that would save an estimated 14,000 men, women and children from certain death.
Upon the Liberation and for the next twenty-five years Kaminsky worked as a professional photographer. But, recognizing the fight for freedom had not ended with the defeat of the Nazis, and driven by his own harrowing experiences, he continued to secretly forge documents for thousands of refugees, exiles, immigrants, freedom fighters and pacifists.
Kaminsky kept his past cloaked in secrecy well into his later life, until his daughter and biographer Sarah Kaminsky convinced him to share the details of the life-threatening work he did on behalf of people fighting for justice and peace throughout the world.
Documents forged by Adolfo Kaminsky, including his own (lower right – “Julien Keller”). Photo: Adolfo Kaminsky.
Worthy of the best spy novels.
Every resistance movement had its forgers, but few have told their tales. Many, like Kaminsky, were very young technicians and chemists when they began their work. Sarah Kaminsky’s affectionate rendering of her father’s life, with all the intricacies of his trade, is a book not just about a remarkable craftsman, but a man who strove to save “every life that was in danger.”
– Times Literary Supplement
He grew to be a humanist forger, a utopian outlaw, the Robin Hood of false papers, preparing passports and identity cards for the world’s oppressed.
– Jerusalem Post
An engrossing literary debut. […] Writing in Adolfo’s voice gives this suspenseful narrative candor and immediacy.
– Kirkus Reviews
A thrilling, novelesque account of how a young man became a sought-after subversive force. […] A triumphant wartime biography, full of heroism and near-alchemistic craftiness.
– Foreword Reviews
While Adolfo, as the book’s narrator, remains center-stage, the story is filled with dozens of courageous, intriguing characters, cogs in the wheels of freedom fighting. From them Adolfo learns that “the line between ‘resistance’ and ‘terrorism’ is sometimes very fine, difficult to feel.” This necessary book provides unforgettable insights into hidden worlds of the Jews, intellectuals, and partisans who fought back.
– Jewish Book Council
A fascinating description of Adolfo Kaminsky’s secret life as a remarkable document forger. […] Simon Vance does an excellent job reading the exciting and emotional narrative. Highly recommended for biography and history collections of all libraries.
– Library Journal (audio book edition)
Sarah Kaminsky has done a masterful job. A suspenseful, captivating, and thrilling account of an exceptionally brave and daring man. … So absorbing that I read it in one sitting.
– Don Messerschmidt, Portland Book Review
Fascinates as a case study of a man driven by a lifelong compulsion, a psychological need, to combat oppression […] A moving portrait of a compelling figure in a field rarely occupied by noble persons struggling to combat evil and right wrongs.
– Manuscripts, the quarterly journal of The Manuscript Society
Ably translated, the prose carries the tension of a spy novel. […] Sights and smells of laboratories are vividly rendered, along with the nuances of photoengraving and careful interactions with strangers and colleagues. […] This is a fascinating tribute to a humanitarian and a glimpse at the nuts and bolts of covert operations.
– Hallie Cantor, Yeshiva University, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews
This riveting story captures the reader’s imagination, bringing us back in time to Europe, Africa, and South America, including Nazi Germany, and the Algerian War of Independence. These harrowing moments of history are recreated through interviews with Mr. Kaminsky himself, offering rare insight from a forger’s perspective and how one person truly can make a difference.
– Eugenia P. Treadwel, Journal of Multidisciplinary Research
Kaminsky’s story has received attention internationally including coverage from outlets in Italy, Brazil, Germany, Algeria, Spain, Israel and Argentina. View a selection of these articles.
In the shadows, Kaminsky lived the brightest hours of the Resistance.
– Le Monde
The pointed and sober biography […] of one of the world’s best forgers.
– Der Spiegel
Kaminsky’s career as a forger is remarkable by any standard. He served almost every major revolutionary or subversive cause in the world from the upheavals of the 1940s until the end of the turbulent 1960s. […] He was driven by principles, took no payment for his work […] and kept his secret well until the new millennium. Only then did he decide to tell his incredible story, under the gentle prodding of his youngest daughter, actress Sarah Kaminsky. […] The result is a riveting book.
– La Repubblica Federal
A touching story traversing a century in clandestine shadow crossings.
Penned in unassuming, unembellished language, perhaps as discreet as Adolfo’s self-effacing personality, and rendered in a smooth translation by Mike Mitchell, […] Sarah Kaminsky dons her father’s persona seamlessly by transcribing Adolfo’s account to her in his own voice, so the book reads like a memoir. It is a powerful homage, written with a casual, if poignant, simplicity, often masking heartfelt conundrums.
– Jerusalem Post
If made into a film, the life of Adolfo Kaminsky would have all the ingredients of suspense thriller, war movie, historical tragedy, intimate drama and scenes of terror.
– O Globo
Adolfo Kaminsky and Anderson Cooper in Kaminsky’s Paris apartment, April 2017. Photo © CBS News.
Sarah Kaminsky is an actress, screenwriter and author born in Algeria. She was three years old when she immigrated to France with her father Adolfo Kaminsky, two brothers and her mother Leïla, a Tuareg Algerian, law student, and anti-colonial activist whose father was a progressive imam. Sarah Kaminsky’s first book is the best-selling biography of her father, Adolfo Kaminsky, published by Éditions Calmann-Lévy in 2009 and now translated into seven languages. She has a son and lives in Paris. Photo: Béatrice Cruveiller.
Adolfo Kaminsky, of Russian Jewish origins and carrying an Argentinean passport, made his living in Paris as a photographer in various fields: postcards, advertising photos, and photo reportage while, at the same time, working clandestinely as an unpaid forger for humanitarian causes. He photographed numerous works of art for exhibition catalogs and posters, and he was the regular documentarian for French painters who were precursors of kinetic art. As a specialist for giant-format photography Adolfo Kaminsky produced film sets for Alexandre Trauner, the set designer for Marcel Carné, René Clair and others. He also took thousands of artistic photographs throughout his life, but has only recently started exhibiting them. He lives in Paris with his wife, Leïla.
Adolfo Kaminsky and Sarah Kaminsky. Photo: Amit Israeli.
Mike Mitchell is an award-winning translator of French and German who has been active as a translator for over thirty years. He is the recipient of the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translations of German works published in Britain, has won the British Comparative Literature Association translation competition twice for translations from German and received commendation for a translation from French. He has been shortlisted for many awards including the French-American Translation Prize, the Weidenfeld prize, the Aristeion prize, the Kurt Wolff prize, and the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger. In 2012, the Austrian Ministry of Education, Art and Culture, awarded him a lifetime achievement award as a translator of literary works. He lives in Scotland.