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Image: Hammer and Sickle Time on the Reichstag July 9, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback


Yevgeny Khaldei (obit 1997) was Jewish, a Ukrainian and a Soviet citizen: three pretty good reasons to hate the Third Reich. A talented photographer he must have counted himself lucky, then, to have been in at the kill, on the roof of the Reichstag as an adolescent, Aleskei Kovalyev, lifted the dreadful flag of Stalin over a destroyed city, 2 May 1945. Berliners had a very unpleasant fortnight ahead of them: in fact, most of them would have a pretty horrible forty years. flag 1 flag 2

Khaldei had no idea what the future held, of course, but he took one of the great shots of the twentieth century, the photograph that came to represent victory in Europe for the western allies and revenge for the burghers of Moscow and Stalingrad. The shot itself was taken with Iwo Jima in the back of Khaldei’s and, indeed, his superiors’ minds: the Soviets had made four attempts to plant a flag on the Reichstag, two successful, one taken down by the Germans, by the time that Khaldei and this particular group got there. Khaldei, in fact, grabbed a few soldiers at the base of the building, explaining that he needed help in staging a shot. The parallel with  Iwo Jima extend to the artificial way in which the photograph was taken, then.

flag 4

The range of pres and posts here show the flag going up and the careful balancing as the young Aleskei (another Ukrainian) tries not to tumble over into the streets below. But as interesting was the photoshopping that went on afterwards. Khaldei, first of all, had to do something about the ‘watches’ that appeared on the wrists of the officer supporting Aleskei: the people of the world might come to the base conclusion that the Soviet army was looting the enemy! Of course, the Soviet army was looting the enemy (and raping and murdering…) on an unprecedented scale, but a photograph of a Soviet photographer had to represent Soviet ideals. (See a previous post about Soviet photo alteration and an absurd argument about shoes.) So Khaldei scratched out the watch on the man’s right wrist on the negative using a needle: the ‘watch’ may, in any case, have been a compass. He also added some smoke to the city scape, though being 2 May there was quite a lot of that around already.

the watches

Khaldei’s name was only attached to the shot post 1991. His larger achievement as a fine war photographer, in fact, was celebrated with international exhibitions in the years immediately prior to his death but not before. This is a shame as he took some fabulous pictures.

Any other great historical photographs with backstories? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

Beach found himself, while writing this, full of sorrow for the brave Soviet soldiers fighting monsters and led by monsters and recalled this Waterboys song from a decade or two ago: When I left my home and my family/ My mother said to me/ Son, its not how many Germans you kill that counts/ Its how many people you set free… [!]