Hammer and sickle over the Reichstag, 1945

At 10:40am on 30 April 1945 Mikhail Petrovich Minin scrambled to the top of the ruined Reichstag, and raised the Soviet flag. Unfortunately for him, though, the flag came off the next day during a desperate German counter attack.

So, ever mindful of the benefits of a nice bit of propaganda, two days later on 2 May the Soviets sent two different soldiers and a photographer up to the roof to do it properly.

Soviet flag over the Reichstag

The two men in the picture above are Meliton Kantaria (holding the red flag) and Mikhail Yegorov (less glamorously holding up Kantaria). Both were chosen for political reasons – Kantaria because he, like Stalin, was a Georgian, and Yegorov because he was a Russian, and represented the glorious motherland.

The now iconic photograph was taken by Yevgeny Khaldei, a Ukrainian war photographer who had been planning the shot he saw as his ‘Iwo Jima’ throughout the German advance on Berlin. In fact, he was so determined to get the perfect shot that, unable to find a good enough Soviet flag, he used a red tablecloth instead. The hammer and sickle was painstakingly sewn on by Khaldei and his uncle, back in Moscow.

Khaldei continued to work as a photographer for many years – mainly for Soviet news agency TASS – until anti-semitism forced him into retirement.

Khaldei died in 1997, aged 80. Despite taking one of the most famous pictures in world history, he never saw a penny in royalties.

German Flag over the Reichstag today

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5 Responses

  1. Tim Newman says:

    I read somewhere that some versions of the picture are doctored slightly to remove one of the two (obviously stolen) watches that Yegorov is wearing.

    I also wonder why one of the NY Yankees is further along the roof.

  2. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Its a fantastic photo nontheless and an interesting story too.

  3. Russophile says:

    Putin saved the flag in that picture from being changed on a stamp about a year ago.

  4. “I also wonder why one of the NY Yankees is further along the roof.”

    The scene of the Red Sox celebrating their 2004 ALCS over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium reminded me of that photo.

    Shortly thereafter, Dartmouth academic Patricia Herlihy compared the Red Sox to Russia. Great potential, which often appeared to fall short.

    I added to her piece by noting how the Red Sox and Russia had earlier periods of prominence, followed by some lean times.

  1. May 6, 2008

    […] recycled the famous image of the Soviet flag over the Reichstag (Siberian Light recently had an interesting post about the history of that photo) every five years from 1965 to 1975, but strangely they turned the flag around in 1965 (see the […]