In 2016, The New York Times released a stunning short documentary called The Forger. Featuring shadow puppets, it told the story of a teenager who, during Germany’s occupation of France, manufactured fake identity papers en masse to save thousands of Jews. Later, he would use his unique skills to aid resistance fighters in Algeria, opponents of dictatorships in Greece and Spain, and anti-colonialist forces in Africa and Latin America. For decades he worked publicly as a photographer and kept the story of his forgeries secret from almost everyone he knew.

The man’s name was Adolfo Kaminsky, and he died earlier this year at the age of 97. Adam Shatz has written a remembrance of his remarkable, complicated life that is well worth your time:

As word of the Paris forger’s abilities spread in Resistance networks, the laboratory on the rue des Saints-Pères began to receive as many as five hundred orders a week, from Paris, the Southern Zone and London. On one occasion, Penguin told Kaminsky that a raid on Jewish homes in the Paris region was imminent, and they needed papers for three hundred Jewish children in three days. This meant nine hundred documents, and seemed impossible. But Kaminsky calculated that he could make thirty fake documents an hour and refused even to take a nap until they were done: if he slept for just an hour, he reckoned, thirty people would die. One of his colleagues had to remind him that ‘we need a forger, Adolfo, not another corpse.’ After the Liberation of Paris, he joined the French intelligence services, making papers for the Resistance members who were parachuting into Germany to track down concentration camps before the Nazis destroyed evidence of the extermination. ‘Everything a man keeps on himself, in cases of capture, can save his life,’ he said. ‘I had a week in which to invent for everyone a credible past and to create the proofs of it.’

Simply to offer to make papers for someone – Kaminsky paid house calls to many Jewish families, urging them to accept his help – was to put his life in a stranger’s hands. His warnings to Jews about the extermination camps were sometimes met with disbelief, even anger. In his memoir he remembers visiting Madame Drawda, a mother of four, who insisted she had no need of false documents since her family had been French for several generations and, in any case, all the talk of death camps was ‘Anglo-American propaganda’. Then she threatened to call the police. Over the course of the war, several of Kaminsky’s colleagues were murdered by the Gestapo, including Penguin, who was caught driving thirty children to safety in Switzerland. To avoid detection, Kaminsky learned to ‘transform myself into a shadow’.