Friday 4 April 2014

Raising the Red Flag over the Reichstag

Berlin's Reichstag circa 1920 courtesy

As a little boy growing up in the Ukraine during the 1920's, Yevgeny Khaldei dreamed of becoming a photographer.  He made his first camera out of his grandmother's eyeglasses.  In the course of his career, he would take thousands of photographs.  But the most famous one would be taken on the Reichstag rooftop as Berlin burned in the dying days of World War II, one of the most recognizable images in the world.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they had little affection for the Reichstag (German Parliament) building, a symbol of democracy built in 1894.  The same year, a fire broke out in the building and it was closed, never to be reopen.  It was in that same building that a vicious fight ensued between the Soviets and the Nazis in the closing days of the war, part of the Battle of Berlin which would cost the two nations millions of lives.

Back in the Ukraine, photographer Yevgeny Khaldei was working for the Red Army.  He had asked his uncle to fashion a gigantic Soviet flag out of tablecloths.  He packed up the flag, along with his Brownie camera and large flashbulb, and headed for Berlin.  Soviet Mikhail Mini climbed to the top of the Reichstag on the night of April 30, 1945, and planted the Red Flag.  However, it was dark and impossible to take a picture. By the next day, the Nazis had ripped it out.

Reichstag circa 1945 courtesy

Khaldei still went ahead with his  plan to capture an image comparable to that of the American marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima.  On May 2, the fighting ended.  Red Army soldiers Kantaria and Yegorev climbed to the top of the Reichstag, this time in daylight, and planted the flag that Khaldei's uncle had made.

Khaldei snapped the photo and promptly developped it.  He did not like the fact that one of the two soldiers was wearing two watches, on on each wrist, a sign of looting.  So he doctored the photo slightly to eliminate the second watch.  At the same time, he added more background smoke to make the image more effective.  On May13, Raising the Flag over the Reichstag was published in the Soviet magazine Ogonjok.  Soon the image was reprinted in hundreds, and eventually, thousands of publications.

Khaldei worked at the Nuremberg trials the following years, capturing images of some of the top Nazis being grilled by the Allies.  He later left the Army and was hired by Pravda magazine in the 1950's.  While he took rolls and rolls of film, he was never able to recapture an image as surreal as the one of May 2, 1945 of the Soviet soldiers raising the red flag on the Reichstag rooftop as Berlin burned.

20060402202418!Reichstag Flag

Raising the Red Flag over the Reichstag courtesy

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