British photographic history

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Auction: Leica that made an iconic WW2 photograph to be auctioned

Bonhams is to sell the Leica camera with which Russian photographer Yevgeni Khaldei took Raising a Flag over the Reichstag, one of the most famous photographs of World War II. It is being offered at Bonhams Leica Centenary Sale in Hong Kong on 30 November and is estimated at £230,000-340,000 ($HK 3,000,000-4.500,000).

The image of Russian troops hoisting the Hammer and Sickle above the Reichstag (the German Parliament building) in May 1945 enjoyed instant popularity.  It became one of the most widely reproduced war photographs in the world and is often compared to the famous image of American soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.

The Russians saw the Reichstag as a symbol of the Nazi regime and placed great store by its capture (although, ironically, the Nazis themselves loathed the Reichstag because of the democratic system it embodied and abandoned the building after it was partially destroyed by fire in 1933).  Khaldei’s image was taken on 2 May 1945 shortly after the Reichstag had finally fallen.  It is a restaging of the moment when Red Army fighters had first flown the flag over the building two days earlier before the Germans fought back and dislodged them.  The soldiers in Khaldei’s photograph are not the original men and the image has been altered to add more smoke - suggesting that fighting was still taking place – and to edit out the looted watches on the soldiers’ wrists.

Yevgeni Khaldei started work as a photo journalist for the official Soviet news agency TASS in the mid 1923s but was dismissed in 1948 for ‘resting on his laurels’ though  Khaldei himself attributed his sacking to anti Semitism. He only became known in the West in the 1990s after the fall of communism. His reputation rests mainly on his wartime work and the photographs he took at the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi war criminals in 1946.  He used this Leica camera for much of his career including his documentation  - rifle in hand - of the Red Army’s drive from 1943 onwards to push the Germans out of Russia which culminated in the fall of Berlin. 

Bonhams  Head of scientific instruments Jon Baddeley said, “It is a great privilege to be selling a  camera with such evocative associations. Raising a Flag over the Reichstag is a defining image of victory over evil which affected people deeply at the time and has continued to resonate for later generations.”   

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