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  • Translator: federica bonaldi Reviewer: Thomas VANDENBOGAERDE

  • I am the daughter of a forger,

  • not just any forger ...

  • When you hear the word "forger," 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 age 19.

  • It all began for him during World War II,

  • when at age 17 he found himself thrust

  • into a forged documents workshop.

  • He quickly became the false papers expert of the Resistance.

  • And it's not a banal story --

  • after the liberation he continued

  • to make false papers until the '70s.

  • When I was a child

  • I knew nothing about this, of course.

  • This is me in the middle making faces.

  • I grew up in the Paris suburbs

  • and I was the youngest of three children.

  • I had a "normal" dad like everybody else,

  • apart from the 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 forger.

  • There was, however, an incident I'm going to tell you about,

  • that perhaps could have led me suspect something.

  • I was in high school and got a bad grade,

  • a rare event for me,

  • so 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,

  • because my father's is absolutely impossible to forge.

  • So, I got working. I took some sheets of paper

  • and started practicing, practicing, practicing,

  • until I reached what I thought was a steady hand,

  • and went into action.

  • Later, while checking my school bag,

  • my mother got hold of my school assignment and immediately saw that the signature was forged.

  • She yelled at me like she never had before.

  • I went to hide in my bedroom, under the blankets,

  • and then I waited for my father to come back from work

  • with, one could say, much apprehension.

  • 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.

  • 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."

  • Later on, in France, I loved eavesdropping on grownups' conversations,

  • and I would hear all sorts of stories about my father's previous life,

  • especially that he had "done" World War II,

  • that he had "done" the Algerian war.

  • And in my head I would be thinking that "doing" a war meant being a soldier.

  • But knowing my father, and how he kept saying that he was a pacifist and non-violent,

  • I found it very hard to picture him with a helmet and 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!

  • These are mine, I was born an Argentinean.

  • But the document I happened to see

  • 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!"

  • My father, a secret agent?

  • It was very James Bond.

  • I wanted to ask him questions, which he didn't answer.

  • And later, I told myself that

  • one day I would have to question him.

  • And then I became a mother and had a son,

  • and finally decided it was time -- that he absolutely had to talk to us.

  • 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.

  • I managed to convince him that it was important for us,

  • but possibly also for other people

  • that he shared his story.

  • He decided to tell it to me

  • and I made a book,

  • from which I'm going to read you some excerpts later.

  • So, his story. My father was born in Argentina.

  • His parents were of Russian descent.

  • The whole family came to settle in France in the '30s.

  • His parents were Jewish, Russian and above all, 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.

  • That's where he discovered something totally magical,

  • and when he talks about it, it's fascinating --

  • it's the magic of dyeing chemistry.

  • During that time the war was happening

  • and his mother was killed when he was 15.

  • This coincided with the time when

  • he threw himself body and soul into chemistry

  • because it was the only consolation for his sadness.

  • All day he would ask many 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 practice.

  • He was mostly interested in ink bleaching.

  • All this to tell you

  • that if my father became a forger, actually,

  • it was almost by accident.

  • His family was Jewish, so they were hounded.

  • Finally they were all arrested and taken to the Drancy camp

  • and they managed to get out at the last minute thanks to their Argentinean papers.

  • Well, they were out,

  • but they were always in danger. The big "Jew" stamp was still on their papers.

  • It was my grandfather who decided they needed false documents.

  • My father had been instilled with such respect for the law

  • that although he was being persecuted,

  • he'd never thought of false papers.

  • But it was he who went to meet a man from 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 the man

  • to write "dyer."

  • Suddenly the man looked very, very interested.

  • As a "dyer," do you know how to bleach ink marks?

  • Of course he knew.

  • And suddenly the man started explaining that

  • actually the whole Resistance had a huge problem:

  • 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 very impressed with this young man of 17

  • who could immediately give him the formula, so he recruited 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.

  • That's my father.

  • As soon as he got to the lab,

  • even though he was the youngest,

  • he immediately saw that there was a problem with the making of forged documents.

  • All the movements stopped at falsifying.

  • 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 a press. He started photoengraving.

  • He started making rubber stamps.

  • He started inventing all kind of things --

  • with some materials he invented a centrifuge using a bicycle wheel.

  • Anyway, he had to do all this

  • because he was completely obsessed with output.

  • He had made a simple calculation:

  • In one hour he could make 30 forged documents.

  • If he slept one hour, 30 people would die.

  • 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 --

  • stayed with him all his life.

  • And this is maybe what explains why, for 30 years,

  • he continued to make false papers

  • at the expense of all kinds of sacrifices.

  • I'd like to talk about those sacrifices,

  • because there were many.

  • There were obviously financial sacrifices

  • because he always refused to be paid.

  • To him, being paid would have meant being a mercenary.

  • If he had accepted payment,

  • he wouldn't be able to say "yes" or "no"

  • depending on what he deemed a just or unjust cause.

  • So he was a photographer by day,

  • and a forger by night for 30 years.

  • He was broke all of the time.

  • 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.

  • He also explained to me that I had a brother, too,

  • and the first time I saw them I must have been three or four,

  • 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 the father that she'd had

  • would tell them he'd come and pick them up on Sunday to go for a walk.

  • They would get all dressed up and wait for him,

  • but he would almost never come.

  • He'd say, "I'll call." He wouldn't call.

  • And then he would not come.

  • Then one day he totally disappeared.

  • Time passed,

  • and they thought he had surely forgotten them,

  • at first.

  • Then as time passed,

  • at the end of almost two years, they thought,

  • "Well, perhaps our father has died."

  • And then I understood

  • that asking my father so many questions

  • was stirring up a whole past he probably didn't feel like talking about

  • because it was painful.

  • And while my half brother and sister thought they'd been abandoned,

  • 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 concentration camps to immigrate to Palestine

  • before the creation of Israel.

  • And then, as he was a staunch anti-colonialist,

  • he made false papers for Algerians during the Algerian war.

  • After the Algerian war,

  • at the heart of the international resistance movements,

  • his name circulated

  • and the whole world came knocking at his door.

  • In Africa there were countries fighting for their independence:

  • Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, 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 the Dominican Republic, Haiti,

  • and then it was the turn of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, El Salvador, Nicaragua,

  • Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico.

  • 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.

  • Europe was not spared either.

  • My father made false papers for the dissidents

  • against Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal,

  • against the colonels' dictatorship in Greece,

  • and even in France.

  • There, just