The Story Behind the Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei (1945)

What’s up photography fans? Last week I have talked about the photo Flag Raising on Iwo Jima, and today I would like to talk about the photo that was the Soviet’s “answer” to Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photograph, the photo that symbolizes the victory of Red army over Nazis. Let’s talk about this iconic photo of World War 2, Raising a Flag over the Reichstag.

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag is a photograph taken by a soviet soldier, Ukrainian-born Yevgeny Khaldei. It was actually 2 days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide when  Khaldei arrived in Berlin with his Leica 3 with 35mm f3.5 lens and huge Soviet flag. The flag was actually made from 3 red tablecloths. Just like the Iwo Jima photograph, this was not a first flag raised at that location. The first one was raised just a few days before this photograph was taken, but then the building was lost and when it was taken back by Soviet soldiers again the photograph was made. The other theory talks about staging the photo for the purpose of the photograph.  Khaldei took a full roll of 36 pictures to take this photo. 

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei (1945)

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag by Yevgeny Khaldei (1945)

What they focused on in Moscow when printing the photograph was adjusting the contrast, shadows and darkening the sky to make the photo look more dramatic. They also removed an object from the right wrist of the soldier holding the flag which sparked a little controversy. Now, there are two theories why this was done. The first one suggests that the object that was removed was a wristwatch. Now, since the soldier already had a wristwatch on his other hand, it would look like he has stolen the second watch. This wasn’t a rare thing for any army during  World War 2. Looting would actually be punishable by an execution. Now, the second theory is that the item attached to the man’s hand was just a wrist compass which was not too uncommon and it was definitely possible.  Since the photographer was probably aware of that when printing the photo, he decided to remove it from soldier’s wrist.

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 The soldiers with the Soviet flag at the former center of the German’s government were symbolic of the victory over Nazi Germany. They were all supposed to be handpicked, but according to Khaldei, he simply picked soldiers who happened to be nearby. What I particularly like about the composition is the nice diagonal created by the flag pole (Especiall in the square format that was often used in magazines). The image was published a few days after in Ogoniok magazine and was republished in thousands of publications.

When we look at the both photos, we can really say those are the two most recognizable and significant photos of the Second World War. The Iwo Jima was taken during the fights and became a symbol of American triumph that also helped to raise over 26 billion dollars for American Army. Raising a Flag over the Reichstag was taken at the end of the war and represents the Soviet victory over the Nazi Germany. Both pictures played important roles during and after the war. They were taken thanks to the brave soldiers and we all know at what cost.