Wednesday, January 11, 2023

RIP Adolfo Kaminsky

Via the New York Times, this remarkable story of a World War II forger: 

Adolfo Kaminsky’s talent was as banal as could be: He knew how to remove supposedly indelible blue ink from paper. But it was a skill that helped save the lives of thousands of Jews in France during World War II...

At one point, Mr. Kaminsky was asked to produce 900 birth and baptismal certificates and ration cards for 300 Jewish children in institutional homes who were about to be rounded up. The aim was to deceive the Germans until the children could be smuggled out to rural families or convents, or to Switzerland and Spain. He was given three days to finish the assignment.

He toiled for two straight days, forcing himself to stay awake by telling himself: “In one hour I can make 30 blank documents. If I sleep for an hour 30 people will die.”

Mr. Kaminsky died on Monday at his home in Paris, his daughter Sarah Kaminsky said. He was 97.

...Needing work to help his family, Adolfo answered an ad for an apprentice dyer in a business that converted military uniforms and greatcoats to civilian wear. The owner, a chemical engineer, taught him the secrets of altering and removing colors. Adolfo became an expert at effacing the most stubborn stains.

He became so interested in chemistry that he took a side job as an assistant for a chemist at a dairy that churned butter. To gauge the fat content of the cream brought by farmers, the dairy would insert methylene blue in a sample and waited for its lactic acid to dissolve the color. That was how Adolfo learned that lactic acid was the best eraser of Waterman blue ink, the kind used on ID cards.

We live in a world of chemicals and chemistry. We are so often reminded of the bad that chemistry can do - it's good to get a reminder of the power of chemistry to save lives. 

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