Yevgeni Khaldei was a Soviet Jewish war photographer who took the iconic photograph of Russian soldiers raising the flag over the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1945. Khaldei was born on March 10, 1917, in Donbass, Ukraine, the youngest of six children. He lost his mother during a pogrom on March 13, 1918, when a bullet passed through his side and into his mother, killing her.
Khaldei discovered his passion for photography while working in a steel factory. He created a crude box camera with a lens from his dead Grandmother's eyeglasses and experimented by taking portraits of his sisters. At the age of fifteen his photographs started to appear in his local paper, the Socialist Donbass. Yevgeni Khaldei portrayed the local miners and steelworkers as pioneers building the Great Utopia.
By the age of eighteen, Khaldei was working as a staff photographer at the Tass News Agency in Moscow. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Soviet Army when the Nazis invaded Russia and was sent to document the war with only a camera, a backpack, chemicals to develop film, and a black leather coat. Khaldei covered all 1,481 days of the war between Russia and Germany as a correspondent for the Tass News Agency. Many of his photographs were published in Pravda at the time, but they have now been compiled into From Murmansk to Berlin, a chronicle of the Russian involvement in the War.
When the Russians reached Berlin in 1945, Khaldei planned to photograph the capture of the city as it unfolded. However, once he realized that there were no Soviet flags in Berlin he flew back to Moscow and searched throughout the day for a flag. Unable to find one, Khaldei borrowed some red tablecloths from a reluctant shop owner, Grisha Lubinskii, and brought them to his uncle, a tailor, to sew on a hammer, sickle, and yellow star to create the Soviet flag.
Upon his return to Berlin on April 28, Khaldei raised the first make shift flag over the Great German Eagle at the Tempelhof Airport. On May 2, he captured his iconic photograph when he witnessed a group of Russian troops at the Brandenburg Gate being told that Hitler was dead. Khaldei immediately climbed the steps of the Brandenburg Gate and raised the second make shift flag over the bronze horses at the top of the gate. Determined to place the final flag over the Reichstag, Khaldei, along with three comrades, climbed the steps of the Reichstag even as fighting was still going on in the basement. It was then that Khaldei took his famous picture of the Russian soldiers raising the Soviet flag over the Reichstag.
Khaldei also photographed the victorious leaders at the Potsdam Conference and the last few days of the Soviet campaign against the Japanese in Manchuria. In the fall of 1945, he documented the Nuremberg Trials where many Nazis were convicted.
Following the war, Khaldei worked in film labs and continued to work as a photographer for Russian publications. He died in Moscow on October 6th, 1997 at the age of 80.
Sources: Howard Schickler Fine Art