When Yevgeny Khaledei was a baby, his mother bled to death after being struck by a bullet. Her death belonged to a pogrom sweeping the Ukraine, and Khaledei’s mother lost her life carrying the child she gave hers to.
In 1941, Khaledei’s father and sisters were killed by Nazis. Only a few years prior, Khaledei’s photography had made the front page of a Russian newspaper that would later fire him for being Jewish.
Khaledi is no stranger to contradictions. He was, after all, a Jew living as a Soviet. As a photographer commissioned by Tass, the Soviet news agency, he was responsible for several definitive photographs taken in the era of World War II. Two Jews stood before his camera after the Soviet’s Red Army drove German forces out of Hungary; they wore yellow Stars of David as they stared almost kindly into Khaledei’s lens. The story goes that Khaledei ripped the stars off their chest after taking one of history’s greatest forgotten photographs.
He would have immortalized the blind man who walked into Berlin’s rubble, who said that he and his companion did not know where they were coming from, or where they were going.
The photographer battled between his allegiances to the propagandist news agency he worked for and to himself, the photojournalist. Khaledei’s most memorable photograph was that of a Red Army soldier waving the Soviet flag over a fallen German capital. The photographer was inspired by the flag-raising by American soldiers in Iwo Jima, and hurried to find a Soviet flag in Berlin. He realized his search was in vain and commissioned his uncle in Moscow to create one out of a tablecloth.
The photograph, of course, was used heavily for Soviet postage stamps.
Khaledei brought in a second photograph of the scene showing evidence of looting on the soldier’s arms: multiple wristwatches. Upon his editor’s request, he scratched the second wristwatch off with a pin.
The Jewish photographer employed by the Soviet Union was never given the credit he deserved by his Russian comrades. He was never paid much. He was fired by Tass in ’48 and Pravda, a newspaper, in ’72, his crime being that of his mother’s. Yevgeny Khaledei was born a Jew.
We celebrate what would have been Khaledei’s 100th birthday this month. In October 1997 we saw his soul wash away, the world baffled by Russian press reports, showing no cause of death.