Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Warschauer Kniefall

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December 7, 1970. A picture can speak a thousand words, and that is what Willy Brandt had expected when he silently knelt down at the monument to Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The gesture of humility and penance was not favorably viewed by West Germans at that time. 48% thought the “Kniefall” was exaggerated. The opposition tried to use the Kniefall against Brandt with a vote of No Confidence in April 1972 which he survived by only two votes. However, Brandt’s Ostpolitik and Kniefall helped his reelection, as his reformist policies helped Germany gain international reputation, and he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

The incident took place during visit to a monument to the Nazi-era Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in what was then the communist People’s Republic of Poland. After laying down a wreath, Brandt, very surprisingly, and to all appearances spontaneously, knelt. The largest single revolt by the Jews during the Holocaust, the uprising inside the Warsaw Ghetto in German occupied Poland during World War II resisted Nazi Germany’s effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to the Treblinka extermination camp. The poorly armed and supplied resistance was crushed by the German troops.

The above photo by Sven Simon has all the qualities of an alterpiece–the black bulk of the coat and religious connotations of the kneeling creates ephemeral and poetic moment. However, it was not Simon, or other photographers that defined that photo. It was Brandt, who was the true author of this photograph.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 25, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with ,

7 Responses

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  1. [...] 24. November 2009 in Bildreport, Diverse Angebote, Fisch und Fleisch, politics in a nutshell | Tags: body talk, Israel, Politik Besucht man in einer politisch und historisch belasteten Konstellation eine Gedenkstätte, ist von allzu breitbeinigem Auftreten abzusehen, wie klassische historische Fallbeispiele belegen: klick. [...]

  2. very nice

    hossein

    March 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm

  3. [...] In the entire Europe there is no battlefield more blood-stained than Verdun, where in 1916 nearly 800,000 French and German soldiers were killed or wounded in an inconclusive fight over a few square miles of territory. On 22 September 1984, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at the Douaumont cemetery in Verdun. In front of the charnel house in which the remains of 150,000 French soldiers rest, two leaders stood in rain. Mitterrand extended a hand to Kohl, which the latter held in minutes-long gesture which became a symbolic gesture of reconciliation as much as Willy Brandt’s Warsaw Kneefall. [...]

  4. [...] for Australian abuses of its indigenous population.  And perhaps most famously of all, in 1970 Willy Brandt knelt before the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto [...]

  5. [...] Warschauer Kniefall przypomina obraz Willy’ego Brandta klęczącego 7 grudnia 1970 r. przed pomnikiem Bohaterów Getta w Warszawie. [...]

    Iconic Photos | Fototekst

    January 12, 2013 at 7:15 pm

  6. […] status:  the German Chancellor kneeling in penance at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970. The “Warschauer Kniefall” was his spontaneous gesture after which nothing was ever the same again, as the head of the West […]

  7. […] status:  the German Chancellor kneeling in penance at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970. The “Warschauer Kniefall” was his spontaneous gesture after which nothing was ever the same again, as the head of the West […]


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