The Forger | Granta

The Forger

Cioma Schonhaus

Translated by Alan J. Bance

In wartime Berlin, Cioma Schonhaus discovered a way of turning his talent for graphic design to good use: he forged documents which helped save hundreds of Jewish lives. His first challenge involved painstakingly recreating each of the twelve long and twenty-four short feathers on the German Imperial Eagle so that a pass stood up to scrutiny by Nazi officials. Many more forged documents were to follow, as the twenty-year-old Schonhaus attempted to stay one step ahead of the authorities. Schonhaus is breathtakingly bold – he gets himself arrested for wandering onto a military airfield and manages to talk his way out; he makes a complaint about the drunken behaviour of a policeman harassing Jewish diners in a restaurant; he goes cycling with a girlfriend in the countryside at a time when Jews were subject to curfew and banned from riding bicycles. On his final 1000-mile flight from Germany, he is forced to abandon his plan to jump on a goods train bound for Switzerland and is left with the option of swimming across the Lake Constance or cycling all the way … As those around him are one by one deported to the concentration camps, his is an astonishing story of survival.

  • Published: 07/01/2008
  • Paperback
  • ISBN: 9781862079878
  • 131x20mm, 200 pages

This is so remarkable a story of survival - with its almost apologetic air of fairy tale - that the sceptical might wonder at its authenticity ... The writing says otherwise: it has the understated, random improbability of truth

Guardian

Now in his eighties, Schonhaus recalls his adventures with gusto ... honest and thoughtful ... a real page-turner

BBC History Magazine

The Author

Cioma Schonhaus was born in Berlin in 1922 to Russian immigrant parents. He studied graphic design and did numerous jobs in the early years of the Second World War. From 1942-3 he remained in Berlin illegally, forging documents for other Jews. While on the Gestapo’s wanted list, he escaped armed with papers he’d made himself by cycling into Switzerland, where he still lives today.

More about the author →

The Translator

Cioma Schonhaus was born in Berlin in 1922 to Russian immigrant parents. He studied graphic design and did numerous jobs in the early years of the Second World War. From 1942-3 he remained in Berlin illegally, forging documents for other Jews. While on the Gestapo’s wanted list, he escaped armed with papers he’d made himself by cycling into Switzerland, where he still lives today.

More about the translator →