Marian Pretzel 2

Title: Portrait of a young forger
Author: Marian Pretzel
Publisher: Queensland University Press
Place of publication: St. Lucia
Year of Publication: 1989
Location of Book: Makor Jewish Community Library, Melbourne Jewish Community Library, Melbourne
Cities/town/camps: Poland: Lvov, Wilniczka, Janowska, Soviet Union: Kiev, Odessa, Romania: Bucharest, Dragasani, Hungary: Budapest
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Portrait of a Young Forger tells the amazing story of Marian Pretzel’s adventures and survival in wartime Europe. The first 145 pages detail Marian’s experiences in Lvov under both the German and Russian occupations, including his stints in Wilniczka and Janowska. Pages 146-229 describe the successful use of Marian’s forgeries in Kiev, as well as a brief return to Lvov. Pages 230-336 tell of his journey to Romania and his life in Bucharest, as well as his heroic rescue mission to Budapest. The book was first published in 1985 under the title By My Own Authority. This revised edition, Portrait of a Young Forger, was published by the University of Queensland in 1989.

Marian Pretzel was born in Lvov, Poland, where he was active as a member of the Dror Jewish sporting organisation. While most Poles greeted the Russians’ takeover of Lvov in 1939 with disdain, Marian welcomed the new opportunities it provided him. The anti-Semitic quota systems which had restricted Jewish access to education were scrapped, allowing Marian to enrol in an art school. This enjoyable period of art, sport and girls under Russian occupation was brought to a halt by the German invasion of June 1941. As the bombing intensified, Marian was offered a chance to escape with other students to Russia. Marian made the tough decision to remain with his parents in Lvov. It was during this period that Marian did his first work as a forger, after being asked by a black marketeer to use his art skills to accurately duplicate German stamps on documents. Marina became separated from his family when he was assigned by the Germans to work on a farm in Wilniczka. Allowed to return to Lvov only on the weekend, Marian returned one week in August 1942 to discover that his parents had been taken away.

One day Marian was captured by the SS and sent to the Janowska labour camp. Fortunately, with the help of Simon Weisenthal, he was able to quickly escape back to the ghetto. Using forged documents, Marian managed to travel to Kiev. In Kiev he discovered the true power of his forgery skills. Using the right documents and stamps, Marian was able to obtain free food and board with the German army anywhere in the occupied territories. Inspired by his success, Marian decided to return to Lvov to help friends and family who were still trapped.

After returning to Lvov, a small group of friends joined Marian for the trip to the safety of Kiev. Using forged papers, the group was able to enjoy a plentiful supply of food provided by the Germans. After the death of one of the group members, and the capture of another, Marian headed for Romania, via Odessa. Using fake documents, German uniforms and expert bluffing through bureaucracy, Marian managed to reach Bucharest.
After hearing of Marian’s expertise in evading the authorities, a wealthy Jewish couple begged him to rescue their daughter from the Budapest ghetto – with money being no object! After initially rejecting the offer, Marian and his friend took it up, more for the challenge and the virtue of rescuing the couple’s child than for the monetary rewards. Through an elaborate scheme they managed to reach Budapest, rescue the woman and return her to her grateful parents in Bucharest. Rewarded handsomely for his efforts, Marian was able to live out the rest of the war in relative comfort in Romania.

Packed with suspense, Portrait of a Young Forger is a gripping tale of daring and adventure. Written with class and panache, this inspiring story is both entertaining and optimistic. An excellent read.