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9 May, 2010 07:35

Red flag on Reichstag - symbol of WWII Victory

The planting of the Red Standard on Hitler’s headquarters marked the end of Nazi Germany. The man who snapped the historic shot was Soviet photographer Evgeny Khaldey.

On the 30th April, 1945, at the height of the final battle for Berlin, Soviet soldiers stormed into the Reichstag – the heart of the Nazi Empire. Their mission was to raise the hammer and sickle over the city, signaling the end of Hitler's Third Reich.

Although the battle was to go on for another week, the flying of the red flag above the German capital meant victory for the Soviet people.

Photographer Evgeny Khaldey witnessed – and immortalized – that historic moment. He was with the Red Army for all 1,418 days of the war.

He did not sustain a single injury, but he would click away his weapon's contents completely, day after day, city after city.

“He was often asked – did you have a gun? Did you kill Nazis?” his daughter Anna recalls. “And he would say, ‘Of course, I had a gun!’ and he would take out this…[shows the camera]. His most ruthless gun.”

Evgeny Khaldey became famous after a series of photos of Stalin and the Nuremberg trials, but most importantly, of the war itself.

“An old woman in burnt-out Murmansk said, ‘Shame on you! How do you dare take pictures of our grief?!’” says Khaldey on an archive tape. “You'd better photograph our soldiers bombing Berlin! I was all adrift after such words, but I promised I would do this.”

He did not keep his word. Khaldey did not take a picture. He created an icon.

Others tried before him, but it was his shot on the 2nd May, 1945, which became an image to go down in history as the symbol of the Soviet victory in WWII.

Khaldey was a true romantic. It those days there were no Soviet flags in Berlin. Soldiers used red Nazi flags and replaced the swastika with a hammer and sickle. But Khaldey wanted no fakes, so he brought a flag all the way from Moscow to Berlin. He wrapped it up around himself to make sure it looked like new. He handed it over to some soldiers at the last minute when he reached the Reichstag.

Khaldey was often criticized for staging his shots. But the photographer argued he captured only real people and their real dramas.

“I remember this melody until today,” the photographer recalls on an archive tape. “It's the Cry of Israel. My grandmother always asked me to play it over and over again and gave me ice-cream.”

His grandmother was Khaldey's entire family. All his other relatives were killed by the Nazis for being Jewish. They lived in Ukraine in the 1930s, before WWII began.

“This is June 21 of 1941,” Anna Khaldey comments on archival photographs. “My father was assigned to film a literary club. When he arrived at the scene he saw joyous pioneers [youth club members], small kids. Around them was beautiful quiet scenery – the lake and the church. But he still had an uneasy feeling that something was about to happen. This is the photo he took. The next morning, Stalin announced the news of war.”

Khaldey died in Moscow in 1997. His daughter is the only keeper of his priceless photographic legacy. On May 9th, most of the photographer's works will be spread out in museums across the world. Some of the snapshots are so famed and recognizable that no signature is needed to identify the genius who created them.

Ernst Volland, organizer of Evgeny Khaldey Exhibition, climbed the roof of the Reichstag together with Evgeny Khaldey in 1993, when the photographer came to Berlin.

“He was very nervous when he came there, he walked up by himself and showed me the place where he took his famous photo,” Volland recalls. “It was not in front of the Reichstag because there was no architecture, so he chose the back side of the Reichstag, because it was more dramatic. He took three soldiers to raise the flag, and he told me there still was blood and fighting in the Reichstag, so, it was a little bit dangerous, and the cupola was still on fire.”