If you don’t recognise the name of this Soviet-era photographer, you would surely recognise his photos. Yevgeny Khaldei accompanied the Red Army during WWII and his shots of the liberation of Vienna form the core of an exhibition at the Jewish Museum.
- Photos of a key moment in the city’s history
- Includes the official Soviet photo of the liberation
- Runs May 12 – Oct 31, 2021
- See also: Jewish Museum visitor & tickets info
Photographer of the Liberation
(Burning house in Kirschschlag © Sammlung Erich Klein; Photo: Jewgeni Chaldej)
Vienna has experienced a number of iconic moments where the arrow of history changes decisively. The 1683 siege, for example. Or the entry of the Red Army in 1945, ending fascist rule and beginning a process that would lead to today’s resolute democracy.
Cameras were rare in 1683, but not in 1945. The Red Army’s official war reporter, Yevgeny Khaldei (German: Jewgenij Chaldej), followed the Soviet soldiers as they crossed Europe and gained control of Nazi-held bastions like Vienna and Berlin. Khaldei himself came from a Ukrainian Jewish family and lost relatives to the Germans.
The exhibition at the Jewish Museum showcases Khaldei’s work, with a focus on his record of Vienna’s liberation in the spring of 1945: both military and civil scenes that range from wartime suffering to cautious optimism for a better future, not to mention Soviet forces enjoying some of Vienna’s famous landmarks.
Khaldei’s most resonant image of that time is the official Soviet photograph of this WWII milestone.
In the photo, a group of five Red Army soldiers stand on the roof of the Rathaus with three holding machine pistols and all looking out across the city. Behind them you can see the Austrian flag already flying “proudly”. What you can’t see is that the battle was still raging just a few streets way from the scene captured by Khaldei’s camera.
One of the soldiers pictured (Vladimir Moskalenko) actually returned to Vienna in 2019, where he presented the mayor with a copy of the photo and revealed that the decision to fly the Austrian flag was a calculated political one: the Soviets wanted to make it clear they were not in Vienna to occupy the city but to liberate it.
Not that this shot was Khaldei’s most famous. That accolade belongs to the Raising a Flag over the Reichstag photo taken on May 2nd, 1945: a soldier raises a Soviet flag on the roof of the centre of Nazi power, with the ruins of Nazi Germany’s capital in the background.
That Berlin photo also serves as an early example of what today we’d call photoshopping, with, for example, one of the soldiers’ wrist adornments removed; it may (or may not) have been a second watch, which would have suggested the item was plundered. If I recall correctly, that very photo was part of the 2010 Controversies. The Law, Ethics and Photography exhibition at Vienna’s Kunst Haus Wien.
Tickets and dates
View Khaldei’s photos from May 12th to October 31st, 2021 as part of a standard entrance ticket* to the Jewish Museum.
How to get to the exhibition
The exhibition takes place in the museum’s location on historic Judenplatz, where you’ll also find the permanent exhibition on the medieval Jewish community in Vienna. The site includes the excavated remains of an early synagogue. Check this article for travel tips.
Khaldei’s photographs are not the only surviving witness to the Red Army’s arrival in Vienna. They built, for example, a huge colonnaded memorial on Schwarzenbergplatz to mark the sacrifices made by Soviet soldiers in taking the city.
Address: Judenplatz 8, 1010 Vienna