Next to Joe Rosenthal's photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima
, Yevgeny Khaldei's photo of Soviet soldiers raising a flag on top of the Reichstag building in Berlin is perhaps the most famous photo of World War II.
But unlike the Iwo Jima photo, Khaldei's Reichstag photo was both staged and doctored.
Khaldei's photo was directly inspired by Rosenthal's Iwo Jima photo. Noting the publicity the Iwo Jima photo had received, Soviet officials (perhaps Stalin himself) ordered Khaldei to fly from Moscow to Berlin in order to take a similar photo that would symbolize the Soviet victory over Germany. Khaldei took a Soviet flag with him in his luggage.
When Khaldei arrived in Berlin, he considered a number of settings for the photo, including the Brandenburg Gate and Tempelhof Airport, but he decided on the Reichstag, even though Soviet soldiers had already succeeded in raising a flag over this building a few days earlier. Khaldei recruited a small group of soldiers and, on May 2, 1945, proceeded to recreate the scene (top).
Back in Moscow, Soviet censors who examined the photo noticed that one of the soldiers had a wristwatch on each arm, indicating he had been looting. They asked Khaldei to remove one of the watches. Khaldei not only did so, but also darkened the smoke in the background. The resulting picture (middle) was published soon after in the magazine Ogonjok
. It became the version that achieved worldwide fame.
Subsequently, the photo continued to be altered. The flag was made to appear to be billowing more dramatically in the wind. The photo was also colorized.
Throughout his life, Khaldei remained unrepentant about having manipulated this, his most famous photo. Whenever asked about it, he responded, "It is a good photograph and historically significant. Next question please."
The bottom photo, taken in 2008, shows what approximately the same view from the top of the Reichstag looks like now.
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