“Victory Banner over the Reichstag”, Yevgeny Khaldei, 1945

Yevgeny Khaldei’s photo “Victory Banner over the Reichstag” in the Soviet Union became a symbol of victory over Nazi Germany. However, not many people remember that in fact the photo was staged – the author took the picture only the day after the actual hoisting of the flag.

Khaldei’s finest hour
Yevgeny Khaldei was fond of photography from a young age – he took his first picture at 13, and was already working as a photojournalist at 16. When he was accepted to TASS, Khaldei began to travel around the country – and went through the entire Great Patriotic War with a camera. He photographed conferences of the first persons of the state, the defeat of the Japanese in the Far East, the signing of the capitulation act of Germany, but his most famous work was “The Victory Banner over the Reichstag”.

The photographer was in Berlin by assignment of the editorial office. In his duffel bag he brought three red flags, which were made for him by an acquaintance tailor. The fabric for them, according to one version, Haldei “borrowed” in the dining room “Fotohronik TASS,” where red tablecloths were so handy, but according to another legend, he begged the local committee. The correspondent put the first banner on the roof of Tempelhof airfield, the second near the chariot at the Brandenburg Gate, and the third “decorated” the Reichstag. True, by that time the Red Army had already taken Berlin and hoisted the banner – but Khaldei did not capture that historic moment. Then he decided to take a few staged reportage photos.

How it was
Victory Banner over the Reichstag. Yevgeny Khaldei. 1945
“The Victory Banner over the Reichstag,” reproduction. Yevgeny Khaldei. 1945. Photo: RIA Novosti
When a war correspondent came close to the place of shooting, the fighting had long ceased, and there were many banners flying on the Reichstag. But it was necessary to take photos. Evgeny Khaldei asked the first soldiers he met to help him: to climb the Reichstag, to set a banner with hammer and sickle and to pose for a while. They agreed, the photographer found a winning angle and shot two tapes. His characters were the soldiers of the 8th Guards Army: Alexey Kovalev (mounting the banner) and Abdulhakim Ismailov and Leonid Gorichev (assistants). After the photographer took his banner – he took it with him – and showed the pictures to the editorial office. According to Yevgeny Khaldei’s daughter, the TASS photo “was accepted as an icon – with sacred awe.

When the photo was about to be published, the editor suddenly noticed something and banned it from print. It turned out that the Ismailov fighter was wearing a watch on each arm: one of his own, the other a trophy watch. In the Soviet Union such thing could not be allowed – a soldier could not be a marauder, could not steal something from the enemy. The photo was urgently “corrected” – the second watch was scratched out on the film with a needle.

Despite all the misfortunes, the picture was published – and immediately became a symbol of victory for the Soviet Union. Evgeny Khaldei continued his career as a photojournalist, shooting the Nuremberg trials. In 1996 Boris Yeltsin ordered all the participants in the commemorative photograph to be made Heroes of Russia, although by that time Leonid Gorichev had already passed away – he died of his wounds shortly after the war. By now none of the three soldiers immortalized in the photo “Victory Banner over the Reichstag” is still alive.