Pfc. Sam Jaffe’s camera went through a tortuous journey at the end of WWII, from Paris on VE day to a beach in Marseille to the black market in Berlin. Decades later, the negatives appeared in the US yard and then auctioned off on eBay. This is how they finally got to a mosque in Moscow in 2018.
Arthur Bondar, The Moscow-based photographer, began collecting WWII photos in 2016 when he bought negatives of a now-unknown Soviet war photographer. These images have become one of the most important discoveries of visual history from WWII in recent years.
“I realized that even after 70 years, original evidence of that time could still be found,” said Bondar, whose work appears in the Washington Post. World War II was a flourishing period for war photographic journalism. Today, in the age of digital manipulation, I decided that I would only collect negatives from WWII photography because we have so many examples when photography has been heavily manipulated during the printing process in a darkroom. “
“I’ve seen how many times history rewrites. So I think I’ll try to show that time through the undiscovered negatives of professional photojournalists, ordinary soldiers, or civilians from any aspect of the war.” My main goal is to show this, which is the most difficult period in history. Talking from different points of view and letting the viewers make their own decisions. “
During World War II, Jaffe was in Company A of the Army’s 3217th Signal Service Battalion, which was assigned first to Allied Supreme Headquarters in London and later in Paris. Slightly sloppy rolls of around 400 35mm and 120mm negative films took over his travels after the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.
After capturing the celebration of VE Day in the streets of Paris and the bomber flying over the Arc de Triomphe, Jaffe traveled south to Marseille in August 1945. He photographed people returning to normal life after the war – people on the beach, street artists and a woman painting a picture while her dog looked at it.
Jaffe drew pictures of himself and his friends, documenting fellow Americans on the road in US military tents and sharing meals in a field.
His most surprising picture came at his next stop: Berlin divided after the war with buildings destroyed. He photographed black markets in Berlin, where Soviet forces mingled with other Allied soldiers and German citizens sold anything and everything to survive. Allegations that American soldiers sold cigarettes on the black markets of Berlin at colossal profits turned into a scandal for the army. Watches and cameras were the most expensive commodity. Soviet forces would spend up to $ 1,000 an hour, according to some accounts.
The list ends with Jaffe’s return to the US: snapshots of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty – all not far from his father’s home in Queens.
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