In Dessau, at a camp of displaced persons waiting for repatriation, a Gestapo informer who had pretended to be a refugee is discovered and exposed by a camp inmate. Cartier-Bresson draws the audience right into the middle of that anguished circle of the formerly wronged and the abused. The judge’s dazed aplomb was contrasted with the denouncer’s rage, the informer’s resignation, while faces of anguish and anger framed the picture in a modern day Greek chorus.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, himself once a German prisoner-of-war, took the photo between 21 April and 2 July 1945, between the American occupation of the city and the arrival of their Russian replacements. He was working with the Americans on a film for the Information Service about the home-coming of French prisoners of war, he recalled: “It was a film by prisoners about prisoners. The scene played itself out before my eyes as my cameraman was filming it. I had my photography camera in my hand and released the shutter. The scene was not staged. Oddly, this picture doesn’t turn up in the film.” (Meanwhile, back in the US, arrangements for a posthumous Cartier-Bresson retrospective was underway, editors believing that he had died in the POW camp).
The picture did not appear in the film because Cartier-Bresson’s fingers were indeed faster than the rolling film — a testament to his eerily ability to predict an impending “Decisive Moment”.