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TEDxPARIS - Sarah Kaminsky - 01/30/2010

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Hello, I am the daughter of a forgerer. Not any forgerer. When you hear the word "forgerer", you often understand "mercenary", you understand "forged currency", "forged pictures". My father is no such man. For 30 years of his life, he made false papers. Never for himself, always for other people. And to come to the aid of the persecuted and the oppressed. Let me introduce him. Here is my father at the age of 19. It all began for him during World War II, when aged 17 he was catapulted into a forged documents workshop. He quickly became the false papers expert of the Resistance. And it is no banal story, for after the liberation he continued to make false papers until the '70s. And when I was a child I knew nothing about this, of course. This is me, in the middle, pulling faces. I grew up in the Paris suburbs and I was the youngest of three children. And I had a "normal" dad, well, like everybody else, apart fromt he fact that he was 30 years older than... well, he was basically old enough to be my grandfather. Anyway, he was a photographer and a street educator, and he always taught us to obey the law very strictly. And, of course, he never talked about his past life when he was a forgerer. There was, however, an incident I'm going to tell you about, that perhaps could have made me suspect something. I was at high school and got a bad mark, a rare event for me, anyway, I decided to hide it from my parents. In order to do that, I set out to forge their signature. I started working on my mother's signature, for my father's is absolutely impossible to forge. So, I got working. I took some sheets of paper and started training, and training and training, until I reached what I thought was a good hand, and went into action. Later, while checking my satchel, my mother got hold of my school assignment and immediately saw that the signature was forged. She told me off like she never had, I went hiding into my bedroom, hiding under the blankets, and then I waited for my father to come back from work. in a very apprehensive state. I heard him come in, I remained under the blankets; he entered my room, sat on the corner of the bed, and he was silent, so I pulled the blanket from my head, and when he saw me he started laughing, he was laughing so hard, he could not stop and he was holding my assignment in his hand and then he said "but really, Sarah, you could have worked harder, can't you see it's really too small?" Indeed, it's rather small. I was born in Algeria. There I would hear people say my father was a "moudjahid" and that means "fighter". And later on, in France, I loved eavesdropping on grown ups' conversations, and I would hear all sort of stories about my father's previous life, and especially that he had "done" the second world war that he had "done" the Algerian war. And in my head I would be thinking that "doing" a war meant being a soldier. And knowing my father, and that he kept saying that he was a pacifist and non-violent I found it very hard to picture him with a helmet and a gun. And indeed, I was very far from the mark. One day, while my father was working on a file for us to obtain French nationality, I happened to see some documents that caught my attention. These are real ones! These are mine, I was born an Argentinian. But the documents I happened to see and that would help us build a case for the authorities was a document from the army that thanked my father for his work on behalf of the secret services. And then, suddenly, I went "wow"! Mmmh... My father a secret agent? It was very James Bond, really... And I was pushed to ask him questions, to which he did not answer. And later, I told myself that after all one day I would have to question him. And then time went by and I did not ask any question. And I myself became a mother and had a son and finally decided the time was ripe, he absolutely had to talk to us. Now, I had become a mother and he was celebrating his 77th birthday and suddenly I was very, very afraid. I feared he'd go and take his silences with him, and take his secrets with him. And I managed to convince him that it was important for us but possibly also for other people, that he shared his story. He resolved to tell it to me and I made a book, of which I'm going to read some excerpts to you later. Well now, his story. My father was born in Argentina. His parents were of Russian descent. And the whole family came to settle in France in the '30s. His parents were Jewish, Russian and mainly very poor. So at the age of 14 my father had to work. And with his only diploma, his primary education certificate, he found himself working at a dyer - dry cleaner. And there is where he discovered something totally magical for him, and when he talks about it it's fascinating, that's the magic of dyeing chemistry. In those times there was the war and his mother was assassinated when he was 15. And this coincided with the time when he threw himself body and soul into chemistry, for it was the only consolation for his sadness. All day he would ask plenty of questions to his boss to learn, to accumulate more and more knowledge, and at night, when no one was looking, he'd put his experience to the test, and he was mostly interested in ink bleaching. All this to tell you that if my father became a forgerer, actually, it was almost by chance. They were Jewish, and hounded. Finally the whole family was arested and taken to the Drancy camp and they managed to get out in extremis thanks to their Argentinian papers. Well, they were out but they were always in danger. The big "Jew" stamp was still on their papers. It was his father who decided they needed false documents. And my father had been instilled with such respect for the law that although he was being persecuted, he'd never thought of false papers. He was the one who went to meet the man of the Resistance. In those times documents had hard covers, they were filled in by hand, and they stated your job. In order to survive, he needed to be working. He asked that man to write "dyer". And suddenly the man looked very, very interested. How comes "dyer", do you know how to bleach inkmarks? Of course he knew. And suddenly the man started explaining that actually the whole Resistance had a huge problem: for even the top experts could not manage to bleach an ink, called "indelible", the "Waterman" blue ink. And my father immediately replied that he knew exactly how to bleach it. Now, of course, the man was most impressed with this young man of 17 who could immediately give the formula, so he recruted him. And actually, without knowing it, my father had invented something we can find in every schoolchild's pencil case, the so called "correction pen". (applause) But it was only the beginning. Actually, - that's my father, always - as soon as he got to the workshop and though he was the youngest he immediately saw that there was a problem with the making of forged documents. All the movements stopped at forging. But demand was ever growing and it was difficult to tamper with existing documents. He told himself it was necessary to make them from scratch. He started the press. He started photo-engraving. He started making rubber stamps he started inventing all kind of things, with some stuff he invented a centrifuge with a bicycle wheel. Anyway, he had to do all this for he was completely obsessed with output. He had made a simple calculation: in 1 hour he could make 30 forged documents. If he slept 1 hour, 30 people would die. So much so that this sense of responsibility for other people's lives when he was just 17 and also his guilt for being a survivor, since he had escaped the camp when his friends had not, is still with him. And this is maybe what explains that, for 30 years, he continued to make false papers and at the price of all kinds of sacrifices I'd like to talk about those sacrifices for there were many, there were obviously financial sacrifices: for he always refused to be paid. For being paid would have meant to him being a mercenary. For had he accepted to be paid, he would be unable to say "yes" or "no" according to what he deemed a just or unjust cause. So he was a photographer by day, and a forgerer by night for 30 years and broke all of the time. And then there were the emotional sacrifices: how can one live with a woman while having so many secrets? How can one explain what one does at night in the lab, every single night? Of course, there was another kind of sacrifice, involving his family, that I understood much later. One day my father introduced me to my sister. And he also explained to me that I had a brother, too, and the first time I saw them I must have been 3 or 4 and they were 30 years older than me. They are both in their sixties now. In order to write the book, I asked my sister questions. I wanted to know who my father was, who was the father she had known. She explained that that father, the father she had had, would tell them he'd come and pick them up on Sunday to go for a walk. And they would get all dressed up, and wait for him, and he would almost never come. He'd say "I'll call". He would not call. And then he would not come. And then one day he totally disappeared. And time passed, and they thought he had surely forgotten all about them, initially, at least. And then as time would carry on passing, at the end of almost two years, they thought "Well, perhaps our father has died." And actually I understood that the fact of asking so many questions to my father was stirring a whole past he probably did not feel like talking about for it was painful. And while my half brother and sister thought they'd been abandoned i.e. orphaned, my father was making false papers. And if he did not tell them, it was of course to protect them. After the liberation he made false papers to allow the survivors of the camps to emigrate to Palestine before the creation of Israel. And then, as he was a staunch anti-colonialist, he made false papers for the Algerians during the Algerian war. And after the Algerian war, in the bosom of the international resistance movements his name circulated. And the whole world came knocking at his door. In Africa there were people fighting for their independance. Guinea, Guinea-Biaasu, Angola. And then my father connected with Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid party. He made false papers for persecuted black South-Africans There was also Latin America. My father helped those who resisted dictatorships in Santo Domingo, Haiti, and then it was the turn of Brasil, Argentina, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico. And then there was the Vietnam war. My father made false papers for the American deserters who did not wish to take up arms against the Vietnamese. And then Europe was not spared either. My father made false papers for the dissidents against Franco in Spain. Also against Salazar in Portugal. And also against the colonels' dictatorship in Greece. And even in France. There, just once, it happened in May '68. My father watched, benevolently, of course, the demonstrations of the month of May, but his heart was elsewhere, and so was his time for he had over 15 countries to serve. Once, though, he accepted to make false papers for someone whom you're going to recognize, perhaps. (laughter) He was much younger in those days, and my father accepted to make false papers to enable him to come back and speak at a meeting. And he told me that those false papers were the most media relevant and the least useful he had to make in all his life. But that he accepted the charge though Daniel Cohn-Bendit's life was not in danger, just because it was nevertheless a good opportunity to mock the authorities, and to show them that there's nothing more porous than borders and that ideas have none. All my childhood, while other dads would tell Grimm's fairy tales to my chums, my father would tell me stories about very discreet heroes with unshakeable utopias, and who managed to make miracles. And those heroes did not need an army behind them. Anyhow, nobody would have followed them. But for a handful men and women of conviction and courage. And I understood much later that actually it was his own story my father would tell me to get me to sleep. I asked him whether, considering the sacrifices he had to make, he had ever had any regrets. He said no, he said that anyway he would have been unable to witness, or to submit to, injustice without doing anything. He was persuaded and he's still convinced that another world is possible, a world where nobody would ever need a forgerer. He's still dreaming about it. My father is here today in this hall. His name is Adolfo Kaminsky and I'm going to asking him to stand up. (applause) Thank you. Stay, stay, stay. (applause) Thank you very much.

Video Details

Duration: 14 minutes and 45 seconds
Country: France
Language: French (France)
Genre: None
Producer: TEDx PARIS
Views: 204
Posted by: sylvinus on Feb 2, 2010

[fr] Sarah Kaminsky raconte la vie de son père, faussaire pendant et après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Enregistré à TEDx PARIS le 30 Janvier 2010. http://www.tedxparis.com/

[en] Sarah Kaminsky talks about the life of his father who was a forger during and after World War 2. Filmed at TEDx PARIS on January 30th, 2010. http://www.tedxparis.com/

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