Three Flags of Khaldei

Yesterday I posted about Khaldei and three tableclothes-cum-flags he took from Moscow to Berlin. Here’s how they went up in Berlin:

The first flag was raised next to the Nazi Eagle at the Templehof Airport. The Eagle was dismantled at the end of the war and taken to West Point in 1960. It was quietly returned to Templehof in 1985, and has since been serving as the Berlin Airlift memorial on the airport grounds.


The second flag was hoisted next to the destroyed Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate. The series of photos above suggest that there was some confusion as to which side of the Quadriga should the flag go. In the third picture, we see the flag already flying (on northside), and Khaldei himself poses before the Quadriga. The gate, which was badly damaged, but miraculously still standing by the end of the war, was restored by the governments of two Berlins — although at the Communists’ insistence, stood without Iron Cross and Prussian Eagle until 1991.


The raising of the third flag became the iconic image of Nazi Germany’s final defeat. Note two watches on the soldier supporting the flag-bearer. Despite being the primary scene of the Soviet airstrikes and the symbolic flag raising, the Reichstag was a mere symbol. It had remained unused since the Fire of 1933.

The photo here suggests that Meliton Kantaria and Mikhail Yegorov raised that flag. It remains a mystery whether the duo (along with a third man, Alexei Berest) were the first soldiers who raised the original flag 2 days earlier, or whether propaganda was given to them just because they were a Georgian and a Russian respectively, two of Stalin’s favored nationalities. (And as I noted yesterday, Yegorov died in 1946, from drunk-driving).

Yevgeny Khaldei and Hermann Goering


Best known for his Reichstag flag rising picture, Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997) was the premier Red Army photographer from 1939 to 1948. Eventually, he was dismissed by Stalin’s anti-Semitism, but in 1945, he was the Soviets’ frontline photographer in the International Miltary Tribunals in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a difficult assignment many photojournalists. Access to the courtroom was tightly governed under rules drafted by the Americans. Three glass enclosures were distributed along the edges of the room, and photographers were confined to them, two-by-two, and given only three minutes to shoot. One enclosure faced the dock, another faced the justices, and the third faced the those who had gathered to observe the proceedings. Khaldei finally circumvented the restriction by bribing an assistant to one of the Soviet justices with a bottle of gin in exchange for a better seat – the seat that yielded one of the most interesting photographs of Hermann Göring and the Trials.

Hermann Goering was extremely angry that the soldiers allowed a Russian (let alone a Jew) to photograph him. Dressed in his Soviet naval uniform (which further annoyed Goering) Khaldei pursued Goering aggressively: “I took lots of pictures of Göring because I thought, ‘Hitler is dead.’ That makes Göring public enemy number one. I took pains to be near him at all times.” With the help of an American MP and his baton, Goering was forced to face Khaldei’s lens, and even to have his picture taken with him. Towards the end of the trial, before the sentencing, Khaldei had his photo taken standing near Göring by a colleague. With the exception of his mother, Khaldei’s entire family had been slaughtered by the Germans in 1941.

Shellshocked Reindeer, Murmansk


World War Il planes bomb a hillside while a shellshocked reindeer looks on. Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997).

At the first glance, it is a typical image from the Ukrainian-born photojournalist Yevgeny Khaldei, who was famous for his photograph of the red flag above the Reichstag. Khaldei loved to document everyday life juxtaposed against images of war: he photographed a sunbathing couple next to a destroyed building, a traffic director next to a sign with German towns written in Russian, etc. 

However, the above striking image differentiating the killing machines and the nature grace of the reindeer was not ‘natural’. Like the flag picture, it was faked, according to “Witness to History: The Photographs of Yevgeny Khaldei”. During the bombing, a reindeer (later named Yasha) came out to be with the soldiers–the shellshocked creature didn’t want to be alone. During one of the air raids,Khaldei took the reindeer shot, but it wasn’t as dramatic as he assumed, so he later superimposed British Hawker Hurricanes, flown by RAF pilots to relieve Murmansk, and an exploding bomb to form a composite image. 

Why did he do that? It was Khaldei’s take on the German offensive to capture Murmansk, codenamed Operation Renntier (Reindeer).

The Red Flag over the Reichstag

Le drapeau de la victoire


Directly inspired by Joe Rosenthal’s photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima, Stalin ordered the Ukrainian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei take a similar photo that would symbolize the Soviet victory over Germany. Khaldei hired his family friend, Israil Solomonovich Kishitser, to make three flags for him which he made from red tablecloths. Khaldei photographed the first flag being raised at the airport, and the second flag being raised at the Brandenburg gate.

However, Khaldei sadly found out that the Soviet soldiers had already succeeded in raising a flag over the Reichstag a few days earlier. Yet, he recruited a small group of soldiers and, on May 2, 1945, proceeded to recreate the scene. On close examination, the censors noticed that one of the soldiers had a wristwatch on each arm, indicating he had been looting. Khaldei not only removed the watches from the photo, but also darkened the smoke in the background (right) to make his picture more dramatic. The resulting picture(below) was published soon after in the magazine Ogonjok to achieved worldwide fame.