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The Forger: An Extraordinary Story of Survival in Wartime Berlin Hardcover – January 8, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This memoir of a Jewish man's experience in wartime Berlin is less a tale of suffering than of courage. By 1942, Schönhaus's family had been deported; the 20-year-old was spared because he worked in an arms factory. In that year, he began using his graphics background to forge IDs for Jews in hiding, and eventually went underground himself. His efforts, aided by anti-Nazi Germans, saved the lives of hundreds of Jews. He maintains a determined tone about the war—At last, I didn't have to just look on helplessly at what they were doing to us, he writes about being asked to forge documents—but Schönhaus's account has all the elements of a thriller. (In fact, Schönhaus's story is being made into a film.) Despite the doom around him, he lives boldly, enjoying sailing escapades and sexual encounters with women, seemingly defying the Nazi authorities to find him until he flees over the border into Switzerland. While adding to our knowledge about wartime Berlin, this work also tells us something about how the human spirit can thrive amid destruction and tragedy. (Feb. 1)
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From Booklist

Schonhaus was born in Berlin in 1922, the only child of immigrant Russian Jews who had moved there after World War I. In 1942 his family was deported to Majdanek and Theresienstadt concentration camps. Schonhaus was not taken because of his job in the arms industry, where he was able to sabotage machine-gun barrels. He eventually was forced to go underground, and he used his training as a graphic artist to forge ID papers for Jews in hiding. He was able to get some support from anti-Nazi Germans. When the Gestapo tried to capture him, the author escaped by bicycle to Switzerland, where he still lives. (The book is being made into a film.) The Forger, with illustrations by Schonhaus, was first published in Germany in 2004 and is a compelling story of a courageous man. --George Cohen
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786720581
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786720583
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,943,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Born in 1922 in Berlin, the man with the akward name Cioma, never knew that he would live one of the most fascinating lives under the Nazi regime, helping others, saving lives and fleeing to Switzerland on a daring bycicle ride. Altough he was scheduled to be deported he was a skilled worker at a munitions plant and this saved him. Time and again luck, perhaps stemming from the penny he kept in his pocket, saved him. This riveting narrative by the survivor himself keeps the reader wandering and worrying, fearing for the awful fate that might befall the narrator at any time.

The book is a chronicle of a master forger and daring genious who set about creating ruses and brilliant escapes to foil the Nazis and save not only himself but others. Forging documents, moving from house to house under the very nose of the authorities this book offers a rare glimpse into life under the Nazi regime. It is also a story of how other Germans helped the author and how many risked their lives for him.

A great tale of survival that will inspire many.

Seth J. Frantzman
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Format: Hardcover
This is the breathtaking--literally breath taking--true story of the author's years living as an undocumented Jew in Berlin during the Nazi madness. Spared initially by his skilled-labor designation for work in a war factory, soon even that was not enough to save him from the order that he be evacuated to the East, code for the concentration camps. Already he had seen his parents, grandmother, and aunt and uncle off on the train. Thus, it is time for him to go underground.

Underground, however, for Schonhaus does not mean invisibility. Indeed, he is the most visible invisible person imaginable, eating in restaurants packed with high-ranking Nazis, for example, on the theory that such would be the last place to look for a Jew. Theory is fine on paper, but in real life it takes either a madman or a fool. The author is a bit of both and lucky beyond reason.

Trained as a graphic artist, Schonhaus is asked one day whether he can copy a Nazi stamp on some papers. He can, and soon he is working with anti-Nazi non-Jews and forging all manner of documents. Fully aware of what fate awaits him (and his colleagues) if he is caught, he carries on with almost youthful bravado. Indeed, it is this insouciance that is at the heart of his numerous heart-pounding near disasters and his brilliant bluffs that allow him to escape over and over again.

Written decades after he lived the adventure, The Forger is a series of vignettes that concludes with Schonhaus's several-day bicycle ride in broad daylight down highways and through checkpoints--miles and miles and miles--from Berlin to Switzerland. He crossed that border in 1943 and still lives in that country. Steve McQueen could not have done it better, even with the motorcycle.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Forger is a story that has been written many times over. The "Last Jews In Berlin," by Leonard Gross, comes to mind, although being presented in the first person increases its poignancy. Schonhaus' characterization of himself is quite credible, and it must be assumed that the original German version must read well. Unfortunately, the English translation is not as good as it could be. Finally, Cioma's crossing the Suisse border was rendered as being much too easy. The reader gets the impression that the author was in a hurry to complete the story.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Beyond a doubt Cioma Shonhaus has an amazing story to tell, it's just a pity that this book doesn't tell it.
To me this was more anecdotal than autobiographical. It was as if someone had written down a good raconteurs account of the escapades a young Jewish man could get up to in wartime Germany, - recorded from numerous dinner parties with each story told in a slightly humorous and self deprecating vein, carefully edited for content - and designed not to put the rest of the diners off their food.
I found the story really lacking in much depth considering what the author really did experience and do. There just wasn't much emotion or depth in any of it.
I have the greatest respect for what the author experienced (as well as the rest of the victims from this awful time). I just can't help wishing Mr. Shonhaus had enlisted the help of a more experienced writer to tell his story the way it deserved to be told.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book presented a side of WWII that I hadn't ever thought about. When I think of Jews and others in hiding, I picture people hidden in attics or in basements behind false walls, never seeing the light of day. It didn't occur to me that anyone could hide in plain sight - a rather brilliant plan. I very much enjoyed this book. The author captured for me the voice of a young man with a lot of spunk and grit, trying to carry on with his life under very scary and horrific conditions. I felt his bravery and was rooting for him to escape with his life - because so many others didn't.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this was a very good book to show how clever some people can be in the face of adversity. This young man outsmarted the Nazis at every turn and lived to tell t he tale.
I lived in Berlin from 1965-1968 and I'm sure that is one of the reasons I can appreciate this young man's exploits so much. I have been to a number of the places he mentions and it brought back old memories. Good reading.
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