How Fake IDs Saved Lives During World War II

AMSTERDAM - In the years when 102,000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis, a German Jewish artist helped save hundreds of children from the clutches of the genocide (featured story from Times Of Israel).

Alice Cohn forged identity papers as a part of collaboration with Nazi resistance group that was based in Utrecht, when she has been on the run herself. The group produced so called "wild papers", which included identity cards, thus saving up to 350 Jewish children from persecution.

During the last year of the war, Cohn's fake IDs saved many young Dutch people from German labour camps.The history of this brave lady and fake Dutch identity cards crafted by her hands are now being showcased at the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.

Alice Cohn was born in Breslau in 1914 and studied cabinet-making before the war broke out. She also briefly studied graphic arts in Berlin. As the attitudes toward Jews in Germany continued to deteriorate, Cohn immigrated to the Netherlands in hopes for better future. As a student in Amsterdam she was designing film posters. Still, the Nazis were after her even in Netherlands.

The thread emerged as a result of Netherland’s pre-war population register. The Dutch were proud of their "infallible" personal identity card, which fell into the hands of Nazis when Netherlands fell to German occupation.

For those times, Dutch identity cards were considered very high-tech, boasting modern design and the use of fingerprints, with all the data being stored in a central register for the reference. Such system made it easy to verify if the identity document was authentic or fake. Every suspicious ID card went through central registry verification process and if the records did not match, the bearer of fake ID was arrested on the spot.

From 1941 onwards, all Dutch men and women were ordered to have ID cards with them at all times. For those of Jewish ethnicity, there was a large black letter "J" printed on both sides of the identity card. In the summer of 1942, the occupants started using the central identity documents registry to locate, arrest and eventually deport all Jewish people. This resulted in the explosive demand for forged identity documents, along with the attempts to hack the central registry.

Prior going underground, Cohn had found a job as a medical assistant with the Jewish Council in Amsterdam. The job given her a small degree of freedom, and she managed to move to a relatively safe address in Utrecht.

"The Children's Committee of Utrecht"

During the two years she was hiding in an attic near Wilhelmina Park in Utrecht, Cohn was able to accomplish the impossible: forging Dutch ID cards in such way that they looked exactly like authentic ones and could withstand almost any scrutiny.

The materials that she used for her perfect forgeries, such as test cards, knives, a workbook for imitative signatures, are displayed at the National Holocaust Museum now. Passport photos and other artifacts used by the Dutch population register complement the display.

Together with fake identity cards she also made ration coupons necessary for illegal immigrants to obtain food. These forged documents helped those living in Netherlands, and those who wanted to come back.

All Cohn’s relatives in Breslau, including her parents, had been murdered. She had to rebuild a new life from ruins.

"Many people were able to escape deportation thanks to fake ID cards," said exhibition curator Annemiek Gringold. "The people who had the skills and courage to carry out this vital work remain largely unknown until today."