Friday, May 8, 2020

Berlin 1945. World War II: Photos of the Aftermath

May 8, 1945: The Red Army marches into Berlin; World War II is over in Europe. They bring photographers with them, Among them were Mark Redkin and Jewgenij Chaldej.The latter took the iconic photographs of the Red Flag flying over the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. But the photographers also captured images of shelled rubble, rotting corpses, and lost children, heart-wrenching photographs, most never seen before, of Berlin after World War II. They reveal a city in ruins and were taken when half of its five million inhabitants had left or been killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees from the East were stranded among its bombed-out buildings.

The Soviets ruled Berlin for two months before being joined in July 1945 by American, British, and French troops. At that point, the corpses had been buried, the fires quenched, and the Red Cross had set up soup kitchens. The pictures ended up in the archives of Berliner Zeitung, licensed by the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD)  just two weeks after the capitulation of Berlin, followed by the tabloid BZ am Abend. The SMAD also had its own army paper, Tägliche Rundschau. The papers printed these photos taken by Soviet soldiers, along with photos taken by Germans, most notably Otto Donath. Born in Berlin in 1898, Donath died there in 1971, after a long career as a gifted photographer.

The image archives were located on the second floor, where the photos—many rumpled, stained, scratched, and printed on pulpy, low-quality paper—were stored in drawers on long rows of metal shelving. Eventually, they were forgotten. In 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down. One day in the 1990s, Peter Kroh, then photo editor of the BZ am Abend— meanwhile renamed Berliner Kurier—had a look in those drawers. Kroh sifted through thousands of photos, many of them not properly categorized or credited. Nevertheless, Kroh knew that he had found a treasure trove and soon decided to publish them in a book. This turned into the English-language book Berlin 1945, The author of the text is Dr. Michael Brettin, managing editor of the Sunday issue of Berliner Kurier. It is part of the history of World War II that has never been shared before in America.


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