A Forger’s Art

The photographer who saved the lives of 14,000 Jews

Adolfo Kaminsky
black and white photo of picture frames and scattered sculptural items
Flea market, Clignancourt, 1955.

Adolfo Kaminsky, who lived in hiding for decades, was one of the most influential forgers of the twentieth century. During World War II, he fabricated passports and identity documents for the French Resistance; afterward, he worked for resistance movements in more than a dozen countries. The papers he made were small fictions that changed tens of thousands of lives.

But Kaminsky was also a street photographer who captured candid, anonymous portraits and uncannily quiet city scenes. In his images of mid-century Paris, anonymity becomes both subject and theme. Looking at his pictures, one thinks of all the faces Kaminsky witnessed but never knew—in the Drancy concentration camp, from which he narrowly escaped, or in the identity documents that passed through his fingers. A huddle of mannequins begins to look like so many unnamed women, rounded up, stripped. An empty bench speaks of transience. Together, the photos are a vision of the humanity that survives.
– Hannah Sassoon

Click here to read more about the artistic career of Adolfo Kaminsky.

Images in this portfolio courtesy Adolfo Kaminsky and the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, 1945–55.

black and white photo of Kaminsky sitting on a bench
Self-portrait, Fontainebleau Forest, 1948.
black and white photo of woman standing on street corner
Woman waiting alone, Paris, 1946.
black and white photo of violinist
Violinist, 1945.
photo of man sitting amidst stacks and shelves of books
Bookstore, Paris, 1948.
black and white photo of a cluster of mannequins standing together
Flea market, Clignancourt, 1955.
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Kaminsky
Flea market; mannequins and carousel horse, 1955.
black and white photo of an empty bench on a street at night
Bench, Paris, 1948.
black and white photo of two people sitting together on a bench on a street late at night
Lovers on a bench, Paris, 1948.
Adolfo Kaminsky is a photographer and former member of the French Resistance.
Originally published:
September 1, 2020


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