by Gregg Chadwick
Raising the Red Flag Over the Reichstag, Berlin May 2, 1945
photo by Yevgeny Khaldei
Today near the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp world leaders gathered to remember the camp's liberation in 1945 by the Red Army. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke proudly of the Soviet soldiers who gave themselves to free Auschwitz: "They switched off the ovens, they saved Krakow," Vladimir Putin said of the Soviet soldiers. But Putin also said there was still much to be ashamed of in the current situation."We unfortunately still see signs of anti-Semitism in our country."
I am reminded of the great Russian war photographer Yevgeny Khaldei. I had the honor of meeting him almost ten years ago when the end of the cold war seemed to mark an era of future peace, Yevgeny's body was starting to fail but his mind was sharp and his descriptions of the struggle against the Nazis were vivid. As a war photographer,Yevgeny adhered to the ideological confines of his superiors. It can be argued that despite the circumstances he managed to remain a true artist. "Some people think that we could do nothing at all unless we were told to do it", Yevgeny said," but the war gave one the freedom to make one's own decisions. We knew our superiors would not publish all our photographs, but we still made the pictures."
A heroic life is made up of extraordinary moments lived in the context of daily existence. Despite the horrors of Nazism and the war as well as the deprivations he suffered for being Jewish, Yevgeny was still able to see the beauty and courage hidden within the details of his experiences and offer us hope for the future. Yevgeny said," I have always tried to make photographs that will be interesting to look at today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow."
The recent string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe , the widely publicized photograph of Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party earlier this month and a walkout by far-right German legislators during a minute's silence for Nazi victims on Friday, have raised concerns that the horrors of the Holocaust are being forgotten. It is my call as an artist not to forget, but instead to create art in the spirit of Yevgeny Khaldei that marks the moments of our time.