Dimitri and Dimitri, the Survivalist Counterfeiters

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Pablo Edronkin

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Usually, saying that your father and grandfather were counterfeiters would not be a wise idea, but if they were PhD level counterfeiters, and the job was a matter of survival, the tale becomes interesting.

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." - Mark Twain.

My father's name was Dimitri[1.283], his father's name was Dimitri Josifovich[1.282] an his grandfather's name too, according to my father, although in surviving records my paternal great grandfather on the side of my grandfather appears as Josif Edronkin[1.281]; Dimitri I (that is Josif) just for the sake of order and simplicity was a rich man, a Polish merchant in Ukraine, who one day went crazy and began stealing things from the shops in his town and throwing coins from his sled in the Russian winters; everybody knew that the old man stole things for sport but as his family paid regularly for the stuff, everybody was happy letting Crazy Dimitri believe that nobody noticed. That saved the lives of that branch of the family during the 1917 revolution and the civil war that ravaged the former Russian empire, because Dimitri I became a popular figure among townspeople and he was remembered even after the revolution (See Edronkin).

Xenia, my grandmother on my father's side[1.37], told me more than once about the different armed gangs that in the 1920s visited villages, towns and even cities taking advantage of the anarchy that was the rule during the first years of the Soviet Union, looting almost everything that belonged to the "plutocrats" and killing them; however, when reaching their town the peasants and common people would speak for them and save their lives.

She, as well as my father, also mentioned that my grandfather's father was named Dimitri too, despite that documents indicate that he was Josif. Apparently and since people in XIX Ukraine were superstitious, however, someone had placed a curse on Dimitri I, stating that he would not have descendants past the third Dimitri that would appear on the Edronkin line. So far, the wizard - or witch, I don't know - has been wrong because I wouldn't be here. But thanks to this little story I know from my grandmother and father that Josif was also named Dimitri. Possibly as Josif Dimitrevich and hence there would have been another Dimitri before him, or something like that.

On Xenia's side the family was of Swiss Germans that went to live to Russia during the XIX century. Her grandfather or great grandfather, according to what she said, had been a governor in Switzerland, and on retiring they decided to invest in Russia. So one day she met my paternal grandfather, who was the son of crazy Dimitri I, waited until Dimitri II got his engineering degree, and married in 1924.

Of course, the revolution washed away any capital that they had. Now it belonged to the people, which was the same as saying that it belonged to no one and things were left to rot.

Dimitri's son, Dimitri II became an engineer after the Bolshevist revolution. He said that in order to get into college, he dressed appropriately as a dirty worker, after ceasing to bath himself for a week and not shaving for a couple of days. He was admitted as a true representative of the worker's class and after a few years, got his diploma. Then he got a PhD and became a Professor. I guess that he did such a thing because being of Polish origin - he was born in Tarnow, Krakow, in 1901 - and thus possibly frowned-upon in Ukraine and russia, probably he had to earn his stripes wth an extra effort.

That turned him into a survivor.

Dimitri III, Valerie and Xenia, ca 1935
Dimitri III, Valerie and Xenia, ca 1935[94.31].
Xenia's passport in 1948, when they traveled on the Italian ship Olimpia from Genoa to Buenos Aires
Xenia's passport in 1948; they traveled on the Italian ship Olimpia from Genoa to Buenos Aires[94.32].

My grandparents went to live to the Caucasus but later returned to Ukraine, finding Chechens, Georgians and Osetians way too crazy for their taste. Then, Stalin's rule began and Ukranians became victims of his ruthlessness: Grandmother said that during the years of the famine she wouldn't let Valerie or Dimitri III play outside because there were actual cases of cannibalism and the victims of choice were frequently children.

At the time Dimitri II was working at a dam near Odessa; one day he stopped along the way to look at his watch. A guard came and almost arrested him because he could be a spy or saboteur, of course. Then Dimitri II got a job at a military academy in Moscow. Dimitri II even traveled by plane for his interviews and arrangements were being made to move the family to the capital.

He would teach there but by the time he went for his first day at work, only he and the janitor were still outside the gulag and a sergeant was running a nearby stationed army division because all officers had been executed, having been established that every single one of them were enemies of the people, enthusiasts of capitalism and bourgeois elements, an so Dimitri II decided to stay in Ukraine. But Dimitri II was better educated than the NKVD guys and avoided all the purges; then the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, and he outsmarted them too, and then, the family rushed out of the USSR, lived in Germany from 1943 to 1945, and outsmarted the Allies. So, my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, father and an uncle got out of the worker's paradise taking advantage of the situation created by the war.

Empty, stamped sheet of paper
Example of an empty, stamped sheet of paper later used to forge documents.
Empty, stamped sheet of paper
Another example; since the stamps were original, they could just write anything credible there.

The reason was that Dimitri II, well versed in everything that had to do with machines, was quick in thinking, credible as a liar and knew how to forge documents very well.

In fact, that was his trade during WWII aside from his regular job at BMW (see The Engineer), and so was my father's Dimitri III - who was by then a teenager. They both forget all sorts of documents that people needed to get away from whatever danger confronted them.

My father a couple of times described to one of my brothers and I how they prepared the stuff they used, how they made checks, bills, ID cards and passports, how they weathered and aged the documents to make them look old and credible, and some of the techniques we learned from him I only found many years after, described in an army special forces' manual.

They used other techniques as well; the best one was to get real, empty documents, and fill them in a credible way. In its simplest variation this implied stealing or purchasing somehow empty sheets of paper with an official, original stamp on them. Then, it was just a matter of writing such papers with some credible text in Russian, German, Polish, etc. according to the story that had to be sustained with the false documentation.

Empty nazi form
Such a form properly filled with false information would have been used to "prove" false identities, facts, etc.

Today - in principle - it is hard to forge official papers, but during wartime, with all Europe turned upside down, there were really little counter checks and balances. Who would call a police station located 1000 km away near the always-moving battle front to find out if someone really was whom he said he was. A couple of papers that looked credible was more often than not proof enough, especially considering that most people had little or no documentation.

But papers had to look authentic and so, they required to be "weathered" - i.e. aged or battered up to the point of looking torn and used - because again, it wouldn't be credible for someone like soldier or refugee, living in very precarious conditions, to have pristine papers that looked like made the day before.

So father and son used to collect about any kind of empty, stamped sheet of paper, empty ID cards and forms that they could get their hands on, and then, they would store those things in such a way as to allow time and conditions to age and torn them a little bit.

We still keep a collection of "clean" sheets of paper with stamps from the German Polizei, the SS, the Estonian government, the Soviet NKVD, the Red Cross, and other involved organizations. These were all obtained as I described above and kept in order to forge and sell documents. Just having some of those empty forms would have have meant an accusation of espionage and an immediate death because such papers could have been used by undercover enemy agents, escapees, Jews, deserters and so on. I don't know about the morals of the business, but I guess that they would have had many different customers, depending on the time and war situation. So, this was not a kind of romantic, heroic enterprise but a hard core, successful attempt at survival.

An industrial installation designed by my grandfather Dimitri
An industrial installation designed by my grandfather Dimitri[94.27].
My father's med school student ID card
My father's med school student ID card, 1953[94.28].

In addition to that, before fleeing from the USSR they took all sorts of documents to prove their own identity; my grandfather managed even to keep his diplomas despite all the troubles of war.

Shortly after the war, my aunt married and separated from the family for a while, so my grandmother was thinking about going to live with her while grandfather and father were seriously pondering about getting into the Foreign Legion. I don't know exactly how or why, but my father was very proficient with weapons, from pistols to flame throwers and knew a few things about partisans, so perhaps they had some experience of that kind. What is certain is that my father said that they considered getting into the Legion because they both knew about warfare.

D.J. - my grandfather - however, eventually got official recognition and validation of his titles and work as a scientist by means of the special commission for scientists of the Allied Forces (see The Engineer) and hence, was able to return to a somewhat normal life. First, he intended to go to Australia or the U.S.

Father didn't speak much about his wartime experiences, but once he described how they avoided becoming targets of German Panzerfausts, and how he could read the newspaper at night 50km away after the Dresden bombing. Avoid the cities and become nobody, he would say. He was certainly affected by a childhood under Stalin's rule and the visit by Hitler's fans.

But a window of opportunity opened and they sailed to Argentina along with Xenia, my grandmother on that side of the family, and my aunt. My father's brother died during the war. The sailed in 1947 (see S.S. Olimpia).

As they reached Argentina, Dimitri II just stopped worrying about everything; after a hide and seek life of stress and deadly troubles, he just stopped being the same person. My father became the one that sustained the family, and at the same time, he entered med school.

Dimitri III onboard a ship in Patagonia
Dimitri III onboard a ship in Patagonia, ca 1965[94.29].
My father with grandmother Xenia at Villa Julia
My father with grandmother Xenia at Villa Julia, 1991[94.30].

He met my mother at medical school and after both graduated, they married; soon after, my father's interest in chemistry since the times in which he forged documents began to reappear, and so he became a biochemist and a professor. They both created a biochem lab that performed clinical tests for a large number of people, hospitals, etc. and that's why they came to live to where we live now; since they were pretty successful, they bought a villa (see Bashing the Villa). We held that company until 1998, but we still keep the villa.

Also never lost the taste for forging things: Sometimes, when he had to visit some government office and speak to bureaucrats he would invent very persuasive lies in order to get things done. More than once I watched him telling something that was a complete lie to some paperwork loving public employee, even touching his rubber stamped soul, with a dead serious face.

Both Dimitris were very good at hiding things; in fact, we know for sure that some of their papers that we still keep are authentic, but we can't be sure about everything. In our family, be it from my father's or mother's side secrecy has been a common trait. My maternal grandmother, for example, never told anyone the real birth date of my mother, she also changed her own name and modified her surname, as it is common among Jewish banking families, but in the case of my father, we can't even be sure where he was born, for when someone asked him, he would smile and say, in Lodz, or perhaps in Odessa, Dresden or sometimes even Slonim.

A test drawing for forging an ID card
A test drawing for forging an ID card, D. Edronkin & Son.[94.25].
Father and mother in Patagonia, 1965
Father and mother in Patagonia, 1965[94.26].

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