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The Red Army's Forgotten Photographer

  • Amos Chapple
He took the defining photo of the U.S.S.R.'s victory over Nazi Germany, although many of his photographs were heavily doctored or staged for Soviet propaganda purposes. But instead of accolades from communist authorities, Yevgeny Khaldei -- born 100 years ago this month -- struggled to remain employed as anti-Semitism swept through the Soviet Union.

A couple in Budapest's Jewish ghetto soon after the Red Army drove Nazi forces out of the Hungarian capital. Khaldei recalled in a video interview that he greeted the pair in Hebrew before ripping the yellow Stars of David from their chests.
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A couple in Budapest's Jewish ghetto soon after the Red Army drove Nazi forces out of the Hungarian capital. Khaldei recalled in a video interview that he greeted the pair in Hebrew before ripping the yellow Stars of David from their chests.

Murmansk after Nazi forces razed the northwestern Russian city with incendiary bombs in 1942. Khaldei remembered that the woman berated him for photographing their tragedy, saying, "Why don't you go to Berlin and photograph how our pilots are bombing it?" The young photographer promised her if he ever reached Germany, he "would do just that."
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Murmansk after Nazi forces razed the northwestern Russian city with incendiary bombs in 1942. Khaldei remembered that the woman berated him for photographing their tragedy, saying, "Why don't you go to Berlin and photograph how our pilots are bombing it?" The young photographer promised her if he ever reached Germany, he "would do just that."

A Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag above the Reichstag in Berlin on May 2, 1945. The photo would become both the defining image of the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany and an example of the deception of Soviet propaganda.
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A Red Army soldier hoisting the Soviet flag above the Reichstag in Berlin on May 2, 1945. The photo would become both the defining image of the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany and an example of the deception of Soviet propaganda.

Another photo from the same scene reveals a soldier wearing a wristwatch on each arm -- evidence of Red Army looting. Khaldei said his boss at TASS, the Soviet news agency, called him into his office to point out the incriminating detail, telling him, "A true Soviet soldier does not loot...fix it quick, take it off the negative." The 28-year-old photographer used a pin to scratch the second wristwatch off the film.
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Another photo from the same scene reveals a soldier wearing a wristwatch on each arm -- evidence of Red Army looting. Khaldei said his boss at TASS, the Soviet news agency, called him into his office to point out the incriminating detail, telling him, "A true Soviet soldier does not loot...fix it quick, take it off the negative." The 28-year-old photographer used a pin to scratch the second wristwatch off the film.

Khaldei with his Leica camera in hand, on the roof of the Reichstag. The photographer was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, in March 1917 to a family that suffered unimaginably due to anti-Semitism. In 1918, his grandfather and mother were killed during an anti-Jewish pogrom in Ukraine. Then, in the early days of World War II, his father and his father's second wife, along with three of Yevgeny's sisters, were killed by the Nazis.
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Khaldei with his Leica camera in hand, on the roof of the Reichstag. The photographer was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, in March 1917 to a family that suffered unimaginably due to anti-Semitism. In 1918, his grandfather and mother were killed during an anti-Jewish pogrom in Ukraine. Then, in the early days of World War II, his father and his father's second wife, along with three of Yevgeny's sisters, were killed by the Nazis.

Red Army troops patrol Vienna. A colleague recalled that everything Khaldei had experienced in his life was reflected in the style of his photography. "That is the most important thing for a documentary photographer."
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Red Army troops patrol Vienna. A colleague recalled that everything Khaldei had experienced in his life was reflected in the style of his photography. "That is the most important thing for a documentary photographer."

The scene of what Khaldei said was a murder-suicide in Vienna, photographed as the Red Army entered the Austrian capital. During the Allies' advance into Nazi territory, mass suicides became commonplace.
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The scene of what Khaldei said was a murder-suicide in Vienna, photographed as the Red Army entered the Austrian capital. During the Allies' advance into Nazi territory, mass suicides became commonplace.

Soldiers of the Red Army march toward Berlin. Khaldei used a Leica camera fitted with a 35-millimeter lens while working on the front lines of World War II.
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Soldiers of the Red Army march toward Berlin. Khaldei used a Leica camera fitted with a 35-millimeter lens while working on the front lines of World War II.

The battered Reichstag photographed in 1945. Some of Khaldei's photographs were heavily doctored, and many were staged for propaganda purposes. But between the montages and propaganda, Khaldei's archive holds exceptional examples of photojournalism.
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The battered Reichstag photographed in 1945. Some of Khaldei's photographs were heavily doctored, and many were staged for propaganda purposes. But between the montages and propaganda, Khaldei's archive holds exceptional examples of photojournalism.

A blind man (right) with his escort on the ruined streets of Berlin in 1945. Khaldei remembers asking the men in German where they had come from. The blind man responded, "We don't know anymore. We don't know where we've come from, or where we're going."
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A blind man (right) with his escort on the ruined streets of Berlin in 1945. Khaldei remembers asking the men in German where they had come from. The blind man responded, "We don't know anymore. We don't know where we've come from, or where we're going."

A Nazi plane that had slammed into an apartment block in Budapest, photographed in 1945.
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A Nazi plane that had slammed into an apartment block in Budapest, photographed in 1945.

A Red Army soldier in the war-ravaged center of Budapest in 1945. 
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A Red Army soldier in the war-ravaged center of Budapest in 1945. 

Gestapo founder and onetime Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering on trial in Nuremburg in 1946. 
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Gestapo founder and onetime Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering on trial in Nuremburg in 1946. 

Nazi banners during a victory march on Red Square in Moscow. The banners were paraded across the square before being tossed in a heap beneath Josef Stalin. Soon after the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany, however, the paranoid Soviet dictator would unleash his own strain of anti-Semitism on the Soviet population.
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Nazi banners during a victory march on Red Square in Moscow. The banners were paraded across the square before being tossed in a heap beneath Josef Stalin. Soon after the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany, however, the paranoid Soviet dictator would unleash his own strain of anti-Semitism on the Soviet population.

Yevgeny Khaldei in 1995. His employer, TASS, fired him in 1948 as a wave of anti-Semitism swept through the U.S.S.R. When the Soviet mouthpiece laid off five employees, Khaldei said the reasons at first were unclear. "[They fired] me and four Russians...but then within a month the other four guys were re-hired and I wasn't. That's when I knew that it was all about [my ethnicity]."
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Yevgeny Khaldei in 1995. His employer, TASS, fired him in 1948 as a wave of anti-Semitism swept through the U.S.S.R. When the Soviet mouthpiece laid off five employees, Khaldei said the reasons at first were unclear. "[They fired] me and four Russians...but then within a month the other four guys were re-hired and I wasn't. That's when I knew that it was all about [my ethnicity]."

The World War II monument in Murmansk, photographed by Khaldei late in his career. Although he was hired by Pravda, the communist newspaper in 1959, he again lost his position in 1976. The great photographer ended his days in a small apartment in the suburbs of Moscow. He died in 1997. 
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The World War II monument in Murmansk, photographed by Khaldei late in his career. Although he was hired by Pravda, the communist newspaper in 1959, he again lost his position in 1976. The great photographer ended his days in a small apartment in the suburbs of Moscow. He died in 1997. 

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