The Forger (Der Passfälscher), True Story

Berlin 1942 The Forger Der Passfälscher

The young Jew Cioma Schönhaus does not allow his zest for life to be taken away, nor does he allow himself to be intimidated by anyone – certainly not by the Nazis! He takes the proverbial flight to the front. Together with his good friend Det he goes into the middle of life and among people – because in his opinion the best hiding places are where everyone is looking! With ingenuity, charm, and a good portion of chutzpah, Cioma makes his way through life, inspired by Gerda, in whom he finds not only his great love but also his master of mimicry.

His talent – the perfect forgery of passports – helps numerous people to escape, but increasingly puts himself in danger.

Directed and written by Maggie Peren, The Forger is based on the true story of Samson “Cioma” Schönhaus, a Jewish graphic artist who forged documents to help others escape the Nazis. In this illuminating drama, Hofmann embodies Schönhaus’ indomitable optimism and determination, even in the darkest moments, to focus on the light. THE FORGER recently celebrated its world premiere in the “Berlinale Special Gala” series at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival. The Forger Der Passfälscher

The Book

Buch - der Passfaelscher

Samson “Cioma” Schönhaus (28 September 1922 in Berlin – 22 September 2015 in Biel-Benken) was a graphic artist and writer who lived illegally as a Jew in hiding in Berlin during World War II. He was responsible for forging hundreds of identity documents to help other Jews survive during this time. He worked closely with members of the Confessing Church, including Franz Kaufmann and Helene Jacobs. Furthermore, he ultimately escaped from Berlin to Switzerland by bicycle in 1943, where he remained until his death. For the escape, he used a military identity card that he had forged himself.

His memoir, “The Forger,” was published by Granta Books in 2007, translated from the German original (Der Passfälscher, published 2004).

Schönhaus was interviewed for the docudrama The Invisible which was released after his death in 2017. The Forger Der Passfälscher

I read his book years ago and it is great storytelling. Very nice that we have now also the chance to see his amazing story, visually, in cinemas.

In the meantime, there is also a movie release – The Forger (Der Passfälscher)

The Forger Der Passfälscher


incl. FREE guideline!

FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...