“Bill, ya know what documentary I watched last night?”
“No Mort, what show did you watch?”
“Well, when I took breaks from the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I watched WWII in Color: Road to Victory on Netflix, Season One, Episode # 9. That episode is entitled, ‘The Race for Berlin.’
It’s the one where the Soviet Army slogged, marched and killed Nazis on their way to Berlin. The Russian soldiers sought revenge for what the Germans did to their people. So on its way toward the Nazi capital, Hitler’s bunker and his atomic-bomb laboratories, they killed lots of Nazis. Near the end of the program, a female historian says, ‘On May 2, 1945 a Soviet war photographer, Yevgeny Khaldei, took the photo of the USSR flag being hoisted by a Red Army soldier on the top of the Reichstag and that Yevgeny Khaldei was Jewish.’
That historian sadly added, ‘Most of Yevgeny’s family (his father and three of his four sisters) were murdered by the Nazis when Germany invaded Russia.”
“Mort, ya mean that iconic image, representing ‘total victory’ over Nazi Germany was shot by a Jew. Now that’s poetic justice.”
“Yup Bill, but here’s the rest of the Yevgeny’s incredible story.
And that the red flag flying over Berlin’s Reichstag building was made of three large red tablecloths with its yellow star and hammer and sickle sewn on it by Yevgeny’s Moscow friend, Israel Kishitser, who was a tailor.”
“Mort, ya mean Yevgeny flew from Berlin back to Moscow to get a large Soviet flag. But when he could not find one, he ‘borrowed’ some red tablecloths and had them made into a flag. And then he flew back to Berlin to shoot the photo of that flag being raised on top of the Reichstag.”
“Mort, unbelievable that the photo declaring victory over Hitler and the Nazis was taken by a Jew and the flag used in that picture made by a Jew. ”
“But Bill, have you ever heard of Yevgeny?”
“Me neither. I never heard of him in Hebrew school or anywhere else. So I googled him. Here’s what I learned.
He was born in Russian Empire, in what is now Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 10, 1917. During a pogrom on March 13, 1918, his mother was murdered by an anti-Semite, when a bullet passed through his mother and into Yevgeny’s side. Miraculously, Yevgeny survived.
As a child, Yevgeny became obsessed about photography. At twelve, he built his first camera using his dead grandmother’s eyeglass lenses and a cardboard box.”
“So, Yevgeny was a self-taught photographer?”
“But Bill, here’s another Khaldei story you may find interesting. Do you remember seeing that famous photo of Herman Göring, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force), in the Nuremberg trials with his face buried in his hand?”
“Well, let me read you what Yevgeny said about that photograph.
‘When we received orders to leave Nuremberg, I asked an American colleague to photograph me with Göring. Göring remembered that, because of me, he had been hit with a club, and hence he always turned his head aside when I came into the courtroom. When he noticed I wanted to get into the picture with him, he put down his hand in front of his face.'”
“Wow. I would never have guessed that was the reason for that photo.”
After the war, Yevgeny worked for Tass news agency as photojournalist. Tass let him go alleging his ‘lack of formal education’ and staff downsizing.
But you guessed it, Yevgeny believed the real reason he lost his job was because he was a Jew.
For years after his discharge, Yevgeny made a modest living by as a freelance photographer and by working in a photo lab.
Yevgeny died in Moscow in 1997.
But here’s one last irony in Yevgeny’s story.
In 2014, The Leica camera, the one he worn around his neck at official gatherings, sold for around $155,000.
And in 1997, one of his iconic Reichstag flag hoisting photographs sold for $13,500.”
Readers: For a sampling of Khaldei’s photographs go to Photographer Yevgeny Khaldei at http://encyclopedia.ushmm.org—RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty and/or Pinterest.