Like Georgy said, in 1926 France was open to strangers. Refugees were welcome in the Third Republic, and the police were not too particular. I saw this change after 1929, after the American stock market crash. The nation contracted like a cramped bowel, and with emigration of Communists and Jews and intellectuals from Nazi Germany after 1933, the rules were even tighter, and the police were frightening. But in 1926, in Gdansk, Georgy was not honest when he told me I could enter France easily, and stay without any official interest. Even in 1926, France was a place of records, and in a place of records I had no papers. I floated out of Poland through Danzig, a stowaway with nothing, and I floated into Paris through Le Havre, a stowaway, with nothing. I needed an identity card showing I was a resident in France, and that I had an occupation. And I needed a Polish passport, with a stamp from a border crossing. And unless I appealed to the authorities, I could not get one without the other. This Auntie Zivia had to explain to me. I could apply to the Polish consulate for a passport, leave the country when it came, and return to have my documents stamped, but I would have to make an explanation at the consulate, and I did not have an explanation. I carried some papers from my family – records of birth and marriage, along with my two photographs – but, with the war and with independence, they were a mess. I was an undocumented orphan, in a place I didn’t belong, and too young. And I was not confident I could explain myself at the consulate without more trouble. This was a world of clerks, and clerks took their time to match records to other records, often with great pains. I was a thief, and somewhere, by then, there might be a record of that.
Auntie Zivia said there were other ways. I would start by making photographs for Lubetkin the next day, beginning with my own passport photograph.
Over the next week, Lubetkin opened his darkroom to me, loaned me money for film and more film cassettes and a changing bag to load them in and photographic paper to print with. I made a passport photograph for myself, and for others as well, and for identity cards too. Lubetkin taught me to age the photographs properly, and at the end of the week, when I delivered the last of the photographs to him, he took me into his dark room, took a thin package out from under one of his trays and passed it to me. I unwrapped it, a used Polish passport. The bearer was two years older than I was, born on the First of January 1908 – eighteen years, six months and twenty-one days before. Lately of Lwów, employed as a photojournalist, the bearer had entered France from Belgium ten days earlier. And there was my photograph, properly aged, and my new name. I would be Ryszard Rybak.
And with this passport I could apply at a police station for an identity card. And with this passport, I was in debt to Auntie Zivia for 2,000 francs. This debt, and the passport, would pin me down for months.