Yevgeny Khaldei: The Shot Worth A Fourteen Hundred Days Wait

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Yevgeny Khaldei: The Shot Worth A Fourteen Hundred Days Wait
Yevgeny Khaldei, 'Soviet Soldiers Raising A Red Flag Over The Reichstag', Berlin, 1945
Yevgeny Khaldei: The Shot Worth A Fourteen Hundred Days Wait

Yevgeny Khaldei was born on 23 March 1917 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Donbass, Ukraine, during the year of the Russian Revolution. Khaldei’s mother was killed when he was one year old as a pogrom erupted in the Ukraine. The bullet that killed her passed through his side whilst she held him. His father and three of his four sisters were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War. As a child Khaldei built a camera out of a piece of card and his grandmother’s glasses. His early portraits of Soviet miners and steelworkers were published in his local newspaper and he started working for the Soviet press agency TASS at the age of nineteen.

Khaldei worked as a Red Army photographer throughout the Second World War and was present at key moments including the Red Army offensive in Japanese Manchuria. He photographed Jews liberated from the ghetto of Budapest and Nazis at the Nuremburg Trails. Notably, when Hermann Göring objected to being photographed by a Jew, an American MP used a baton to make him face Khaldei’s camera. Khaldei also worked on commission to produce portraits of State leaders including Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. He worked for TASS until he was sacked in 1948. He attributed his dismissal to anti-Semitism.

Khaldei’s most famous photograph shows a Red Army soldier raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin in celebration of the Soviet victory in East Germany. Khaldei had seen Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the flag raising at Iwo Jima and wanted to create a similarly triumphant image. Whilst the Soviet army was approaching Berlin, Khaldei’s uncle made a flag out of three red tablecloths taken from TASS and sewn together. The seams of the tablecloths are visible in the photograph. The photograph is a re-enactment of an earlier flag raising at which no photograph was taken as it was erected in the dark and subsequently shot down by German soldiers the next day. Khaldei’s photograph was taken after the surrender of the Reichstag rather than during the battle. Khaldei altered the photograph in the darkroom before publication to hide evidence of looting as one of the soldiers was wearing two watches. He also added dark clouds of smoke for dramatic effect. Speaking about the photograph, Khaldei said that he had been waiting for the shot for ‘fourteen hundred days’. The secrecy of the Soviet media meant that the identity of the photographer was disputed for a long time. The photograph was only attributed to Khaldei after the fall of the Soviet Union.

After leaving TASS, Khaldei undertook freelance work before working for the newspaper Pradva from 1959 to 1970. His wartime photographs were published in 1984 in a book entitled Ot Murmanska do Berlina (From Murmansk to Berlin). In a 1995 interview with The New York Times he said: ‘I have just always wanted people to know what really happened in their time. I would have to say that many times my heart was broken. But I also witnessed greatness.’ Khaldei died on 6 October 1997 in Moscow.

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