In English

May Allah have mercy on you, Prokudin-Gorsky

Some of our super-knowledgeable kinsmen, hearing this “Allah rəhmət eləsin“, probably will hurry to say “he doesn’t qualify for rəhmət“, but this expression in our language takes its roots from Arabic “رحمة الله عليه”, that is a wish “May Allah have mercy on him” about somebody who passed away. And if this wish has already reached its destination – the all-hearing and the all-seeing the most merciful of all-merciful, there is no place for needless talks.

Mirza Jalil also started his story titled “Qurbanəli bəy” in 1907 with the epigraph “Qoqol, Allah sənə rəhmət eləsin” i.e. “Gogol, may Allah have mercy on you”. It is evident that the criticizing, satirical writings by the classic of the Russian literature Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852) had a big influence on the creative life of Jalil Mammadguluzade (1869-1932) and stimulated the birth of the “Molla Nəsrəddin” literary school.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863-1944) is considered as one of the pioneers of the color photography in the world. The reason we wish him “rəhmət” is that he is the author of probably the first known to the history color photos of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis.

Who is Prokudin-Gorsky?

It is interesting that Prokudin-Gorsky family takes its roots from a Tatar grand duke Murza Musa (1350-?), who together with his sons came to the Duchy of Moscow from the Golden Horde and adopted Orthodox Christianity and the name of Pyotr. So the crescent and star on the family coat of arms is a reference to Tatar roots, while the symbolic depiction of a river is a reference to the Nepryadva, a tributary of the Don river, and to participation in the Battle of Kulikovo. It is said that in this 1380 battle, which resulted in the victory of grand duke Dmitry‘s (1350-1389) troops over Mamai khan’s (1335-1381) army, Pyotr lost all his sons. Prince Dmitry, who earned a nickname of Donskoy i.e. of the Don after this victory, married Pyotr to a princess of the Rurik dynasty called Mariya and favoured him with ancestral lands called Gora (“mountain” in Russian) for his eagerness. So the family name of Gorsky starts with Pyotr Gorsky, his grand-son Prokopy Alfyorovich (1420-1450) nicknamed Prokuda (with other words “prokaznik” – “prankish” in Russian) and descendants of the latter are called Prokudin-Gorsky.

It is evident from Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky‘s short biography that till 1890, which is till he was 27 he was getting education in very different directions. In 1883-86 he studies in the Alexander Lyceum, in 1886-88 he is a hearer at lectures on the natural sciences at the department of physics-mathematics of Saint Petersburg University, in 1888-90 he is a student at Imperial Military-Medical Academy, takes painting classes at Imperial Academy of Arts, takes serious interest in playing violin, and never completes his formal education in any of these places. At Saint Petersburg University one of Sergey Mikhaylovich‘s teachers was the famous scientist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907), and it is said that namely this teacher was the initiator of his interest in chemistry and photography.

Along the Skuritskhali river. Etude. Orta-Batum. 1912.
Along the Skuritskhali river. Etude. Orta-Batum. 1912. Source: The Library of Congress.

Prokudin-Gorsky, becoming a member of the chemistry-technology and later the photography sections of Imperial Russian Technical Society, starting from 1897 gives lectures on his photographic experiments. In 1901 his “photo-zinkographic and photo-technical studio” is opened in Petersburg. In 1902 while traveling to Germany he studies practices of the leading color photography researchers, especially of Adolf Miethe (1862-1927), and acquires cutting edge technical equipment.

The first color photo was demonstrated way back in 1861. The “color separation” principle used proposes taking a photo with red, green and blue filters, and demonstrating it by projecting these pictures over each other through corresponding filters. One of the main problems was development of photo-emulsions that would let correct transmission of colors, and Prokudin-Gorsky made his contribution to the research in this direction.

In the following years he arranges color photo-projection demonstrations, travels to different regions of the empire for photo-shootings, organizes printing of color postcards in his studio. Prokudin-Gorsky becomes even more famous by taking the color photo of the 80 years old living classic of the Russian literature Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) in 1908. He often is invited to receptions-gatherings of the high society for demonstrating color photo-projections.

A special demonstration for the Emperor Nikolai II and his family in May 1909 gave a critical boost to the researcher’s creative work. Amazed by the color images, the emperor orders granting Sergey Mikhaylovich transportation expenses and permissions needed to document in natural colors all places of interest of Russia. After few weeks Prokudin-Gorsky already starts his first expedition. It was planned to take ten thousand color photos in ten years. Despite financial difficulties, world war and revolutions Sergey Mikhaylovich collects valuable photo-materials while traveling to different provinces, including to Turkestan and Caucasus several times, works on color cinematography. In 1917 the rule of Romanov dynasty was overthrown, and later Bolshevik revolution took place. By that time there were already about 3,500 photos in Prokudrin-Gorsky‘s unique collection.

Prokudin-Gorsky emigrates from the Soviet Russia at the first opportunity, in 1918 he is sent on a mission to Norway and never comes back. Later he lives in England, and in France from 1921 till 1944 i.e. till the end of his life. Interestingly, the researcher was able to get permission for bringing part of the collection, that is 2,300 negatives to France. More than 1,200 negatives and more than 1,000 color slides left in the Soviet Russia, as well as about 400 negatives stored in France are considered lost. In 1948 the US Library of Congress buys from Prokudin-Gorsky‘s sons what they have got left from the collection. The collection currently preserved in the library consists mainly triple-frame negatives of 1,902 photos. Besides, 14 registration albums contain small black and white copies of these photos with explanations.

These precious historical photo-documents were unknown to wider public for many years. In 2000 the collection was digitized and put for open access at the Library of Congress website.

Instagram Azerbaijan, 1912

There are tens of photos related to Azerbaijan in the Prokudin-Gorsky collection. One can learn where were they taken and what they depict from the explanatory titles under small black and white “thumbnail” images in the registration photo-album titled “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area”.

Page 33 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.
Page 33 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.

Most of the photos are taken in the Mughan steppe in 1912 and are registered at pages 33-38 of the 44-page album. The series start with a photo “Река Араксъ у Саатлы. Мугань” i.e. “The Aras River near Saatly. Mughan” and mainly depict cotton farming around Nikolayevsk, Grafovka and Petropavlovsk (today’s Sabirabad that was renamed in 1931), where Ukrainian peasants moved from the Kharkov province were settled. By the way, back in 1899 the founder of Azerbaijani press, eminent intellectual Hasan Bey Zardabi (1837-1907) mentioned these settlements in his “Kaspi” newspaper article.

Page 38 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.
Page 38 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album. Source: The Library of Congress.

Only few of these photos depict people. The picture titled “Персидские татары. Саатлы. Мугань” i.e. “Persian Tatars. Saatly. Mughan” can be regarded as the first color photo of Azerbaijanis known to the history. While for many of us color photos appeared in our home albums only in 1980s, the two men on the picture had their color photos taken in the beginning of the century. Although they do not seem to be pleased by this historic moment. They probably did not have a chance also to see their color pictures. Would not the Library of Congress digitize this unique collection and post for open access in the internet, probably we would not have a chance, too.

The reconstructed color image of the “Persian Tatars. Saatly. Mughan” photo (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right). Source: The Library of Congress.
The reconstructed color image of the “Persian Tatars. Saatly. Mughan” photo (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right, from top to bottom – the images for blue, green and red filter). Source: The Library of Congress.

I have seen this picture back in 2010 while in America when I searched the Prokudin-Gorsky collection at the library website, but searching for the word “Azerbaijan” seemed to yield only few pictures at that time. The Library of Congress ordered reconstruction of 122 images to photographer Walter Frankhauser in 2001 for the exhibition named “The Empire That Was Russia”. Reconstructing color images using the scanned in 2000 in high resolution digital files of the preserved triple negatives is far from being a trivial task.

At the time, three separate pictures of each photo were shot for different colors. During the time passing between the shots besides the shaking of the negative the photographed objects moved, too. Various physical defects of the glass negative plates also added difficulties for reconstruction. The photo above depicting Prokudin-Gorsky at a river side is also one of the pictures reconstructed by Frankhausen. Only one of the pictures taken in Azerbaijan – the photo titled “Mughan. The family of a settler. Grafovka settlement” was reconstructed for the exhibition.

Later, in 2004 the Library of Congress contracted Blaise Agüera y Arcas for automated restoration-reconstruction of all the color photos. By the way, a prominent computer graphics professional Blaise was in the news in 2013 for moving to “Google” after seven years in leading positions at “Microsoft”. According to him, along with the “rigid alignment” of the three negatives the “warpfield alignment” method, which yields better results by deforming different parts of the negatives differently, was used in the software developed for reconstruction of the photos.

Surprisingly in the reconstructed “Persian Tatars” photo that is stored in the online database of the Library of Congress color ghosting is clearly visible because negatives are not aligned well. It is especially evident when you look at the person on the right. However, as it was shot in the bright sunlight the exposure time of the shots and therefore the differences between three images had to be small, also there are no serious defects visible on the negatives.

Without giving up to laziness I opened the triple negative file in “Photoshop” program, cut its corresponding parts and pasted to the red, green and blue color channels in a new file. By doing just translations, that is by moving the images up-and-down or right-and-left I aligned them over each-other. Apparently for an ideal result you also need to do some slight rotations. But the resulting picture was satisfactory anyway. Those who want to finalize the work may want to download the file here. At the end I darkened the images in the red and green channels a little bit, the result is below.

A fragment of the reconstructed “Persian Tatars” photo. Left: the version of the Library of Congress. Middle: my version. Right: the version restored by V.Ratnikov.
A fragment of the reconstructed “Persian Tatars” photo. Left: the version of the Library of Congress. Middle: my version. Right: the version restored by V.Ratnikov.

Later I learned that as part of several different projects, which research the Prokudin-Gorsky heritage, the photos were reconstructed and posted on internet. But before that I had to eliminate a small inaccuracy in the Library of Congress catalog.

Researcher A.Yusubov

The titles for pictures in the Library of Congress catalog are taken from the inscriptions beneath the corresponding black and white thumbnail images in the registration albums. Most probably these albums were compiled by Prokudin-Gorsky and his assistants long after the actual shootings, since occasionally the titles do not match pictures or the chronological order is clearly violated.

Black and white image of the photo with an incorrect title at page 32 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album (left) and the image of the Shirvanshahs' Palace complex on the old ten thousand manat banknote (right). Source: The Library of Congress and BanknoteIndex.com.
Black and white image of the photo with an incorrect title at page 32 of the “Views in the Caucasus and Black Sea area” album (left) and the image of the Shirvanshahs’ Palace complex on the old ten thousand manat banknote, known as “shirvan” among common people (right). Source: The Library of Congress and BanknoteIndex.com.

Probably any Azerbaijani would testify that the image above depicts the mosque in the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, but this picture is placed among Tiflis photos in the registration album
and its title incorrectly was registered as “Мечеть въ Азiатской части Тифлиса”, that is “A mosque in the Asian part of Tiflis”. However, in the online catalog the title was corrected and the following is written in the notes “Corrected title information provided by Dmitry Vorona, 2013”.

Unfortunately, no color negative of this photo survived to our days, but it shows that Prokudin-Gorsky was shooting also in Baku. While browsing through the Caucasus album in the online catalog I saw a photo of the Philharmonic building well familiar to Baku dwellers at page 39. It turned out that although there is no explanation regarding this picture in the album, its title was aligned with the title of another photo at the same page and was registered as “Mechetʹ v Vladikavkazi︠e︡ (Mosque in Vladikavkaz)”.

The reconstructed color image of the photo of the Philharmonic building (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right). Source: The Library of Congress.
The reconstructed color image of the photo of the Philharmonic building (left) and the digital file of its triple negative (right). Source: The Library of Congress.

Without any delay I sent the following message dated 25 March 2015 through the online form for reporting errors in the catalog at the library website:

There is no original title for the photo in Prokudin-Gorskii’s album, but the title was wrongly assigned apparently because of proximity to another photo of the Mosque in Vladikavkaz.

This is in fact totally different building in a different city – Baku. Look at the rare aerial photo of 1918 Baku. The Summer Centre for Public Gatherings at the bottom right corner, opened in 1912 as a club for wealthy Baku elite, was architecturally inspired by l’Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and now houses the Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall named after Muslum Magomayev (1885-1937) – famous Azerbaijani and Soviet composer and conductor (see here). See here the modern look of the building.

And one day later I received the reply email below:

Dear Araz Yusubov: Thank you for your email about the caption for the image by Prokudin-Gorskii (item LC-P87-7277). You are correct that there is no title for the image in the album (LOT 10336) and that the title in the catalog record appears to be have assigned because it was close to the image of the mosque. The mosque is clearly not the same building as depicted in LC-P87-7277.

The building shown in LC-P87-7277 does look like the former Summer Centre for Public Gatherings in Baku, Azerbiajan which is shown in the aerial photo which you sent us. I have updated our database to incorporate your new information. The change should be in the online catalog within a few weeks.

Thank you very much for helping us correct and improve the information for this image in our catalog.

Best wishes,

Arden Alexander
Cataloger
Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress

Thus, the title of this photo in the Library of Congress catalog now is indicated as “The Summer Centre for Public Gatherings, Baku, Azerbaijan”. There is also a small addition made in the notes section: “Title devised by Library staff. (Source: researcher A. Yusubov, 2015)”.

Other interesting links

“Цвет нации” (“Painter of the nation”) A 2014 Leonid Parfyonov documentary dedicated to Prokudin-Gorsky’s 150 years anniversary (in Russian) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx0TbbRC5RE

Many titles are corrected in the catalog of reconstructed color photos on the website of the international research project “The Legacy of S.M.Prokudin-Gorsky” http://prokudin-gorsky.org/

The color photos reconstructed as part of the “The Russian Empire in color photos” project of the Belorussian orthodox church http://veinik.by/

The color photos restored by the laboratory of digital technologies for restoration of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the “Restavrator-M” center http://www.prokudin-gorsky.ru/

Advertisements
In English

Yanks meet Reds

Almost a year ago I already wrote some apologetic rambling on why I do not write so often. One justification is that too often while collecting materials for the next story I stumble upon many side stories. Following a new thread you collect more information, more images and documents, as well as make new inquiries. As a result, similar to Achilles in Zeno’s (c.490–c.430 BC) paradox, you never seem to catch the end of your journey for the ultimate story. Here is one of such side stories, which emerged with a wartime photo I found while preparing the story of soldier letters sent in 1941 that never made it home.

Who is on the photo?

I came across this photo almost two years ago, in a German photo-archive just by searching for “Aserbaidschan” i.e. “Azerbaijan”. The photo by a world famous author of many iconic World War Two photos, Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997) has a short title – “Berlin”. The date indicated is July 1945 – the time when American, British and French troops were let into agreed sectors of Berlin, captured by the Soviet Army.

Berlin” by Yevgeny Khaldei. Source: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz‎ Inventar-Nr.: 1191
“Berlin” by Yevgeny Khaldei. Source: Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz‎ Inventar-Nr.: 1191

If you pay attention to clothes, it is obvious that the image is a mirror inversion. The description reads as “Zwei Soldaten, ein amerikanischer und ein russischer aus Aserbaidschan.” i.e. “Two soldiers, one American and one Russian from Azerbaijan”. It does not reveal the names of the two soldiers, so in this case it is hard to say if “Russian” should be read as “Soviet”.

Searching internet you will find the same photo, accompanied by two different captions that contain exact names of those who are on the photo.

The Soviet soldier is described as Ivan Numladze, bearing a Georgian surname. The online database of documents on Great Patriotic War awards and battle documents of the Ministry of Defense of Russia did not return any result on my search for this surname. It is not strange since the database is not complete yet. But their online archive of “irretrievable losses” returned one person: Grigoriy Numladze, who was freed from captivity in Romania in October 1944.

Confusion starts with the name of the American soldier indicated either as Buck Kotzebue or as Byron Shiver. But the date and place are the same – April 1945, somewhere near Torgau, Germany, where 1st American Army and 5th Soviet Guards Army linked up at Elbe River.

The map produced by Americans for the Elbe River linkup ceremony. Source: The Fighting 69th Infantry Division Website.
The map produced by Americans for the Elbe River linkup ceremony. Source: The Fighting 69th Infantry Division Website.

First Lieutenant Albert L. ‘Buck’ Kotzebue of the Company G of the 273rd Infantry Regiment was leading one of the three American patrols that made contact with the Soviet troops on 25 April 1945. The above map shows roughly the place and time, when the second patrol led by 2nd Lieutenant William D. Robertson of the same regiment met the Soviet patrol led by Lieutenant Alexander Silvashko (1922-2010)of the 58th Guards Division – on a damaged bridge over the Elbe in Torgau. By a twist of fate, back then exactly this meet up became the ‘official’ one in the West, and a photo of these two officers, taken by an American photographer, became the symbol of the Elbe linkup.

The same image was chosen for the cover of the book published in 1988, both in the US and the USSR, with different titles. “Yanks meet Reds” in English and “Встреча на Эльбе” (Meeting at the Elbe) in Russian contains recollections of veterans from both sides of the Elbe. There was also a third patrol led by Major Fred W. Craig, which was sent to find out what is up with Kotzebue’s patrol that left a day earlier.

The cover of the book “Yanks meet Reds: recollections of U.S. and Soviet vets from the linkup in World War II”. Capra Press, August 1988. Source: ebay.com
The cover of the book “Yanks meet Reds: recollections of U.S. and Soviet vets from the linkup in World War II”. Capra Press, August 1988. Source: ebay.com

So, later investigation showed that the first contact was in fact made by Kotzebue’s patrol. On their way from Kuhren to Strehla, at around 11.30 they met a “Russian” cavalryman at a farmhouse courtyard in Leckwitz. This was actually an ethnic Kazakh, Private Aytkali Alibekov conscripted in 1943 from Tashtagol District of Russia. The patrol got some directions from him, he also advised to take a freed Polish prisoner of war as a guide. The major encounter happened some hour later with the Soviet company under command of Lieutenant Grigori Goloborodko of the 175th Guards Rifle Regiment.

Map of the three Elbe Day link ups. Source: The Fighting 69th Infantry Division Website.
Map of the three Elbe Day link ups. Source: The Fighting 69th Infantry Division Website.

Apparently there is no publicly available photo evidence of this first meeting. But US Army artist Olin Dows (1904-1981), who later witnessed the meeting of allied forces, depicted the moment in one of his paintings with this not quite accurate description of the event:

“At 1145 on the morning of April 25, 1945, from the Strehla bank of the Elbe River, Lt Kotzebue fires two red and green flares from a carbine as a signal of identification to the Russians on the opposite bank. Below is the boat which he and five men from his patrol used to reach the Russian side. In the background is the drifting German pontoon bridge which has been knocked away from its moorings by shell fire and the mixed German military and civilian convoy which was trying to cross the Elbe when destroyed by Russian tanks.”

“Signal to the Russians” by Olin Dows. Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History
“Signal to the Russians” by Olin Dows. Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History

Going back to the initial photo of two soldiers, the American depicted on it apparently is not Kotzebue. First, because he is not a lieutenant, besides on other rare photos Kotzebue looks quite different with his binoculars, wearing a jacket and smoking a pipe.

So, the young American soldier with a shining smile is Private Byron Shiver, native of Florida, from the same company, who was part of the Kotzebue’s patrol. He appears in some other photos, taken during the subsequent meetings the day after.

It seems that the cause of this confusion is the photo caption that appeared in the 29 April 1945 issue of the official newspaper of the People’s Commissariat for Defense of the USSR “Красная Звезда” (Krasnaya Zvezda/Red Star). The bottom photo at page 3 obviously shows the same scene with two soldiers from a different perspective. The caption read as: “THE LINK UP OF THE TROOPS OF THE 1ST UKRAINIAN FRONT AND ANGLO-AMERICAN FORCES. On the picture above: Soviet and American officers chatting. Below: The Red Army guardsman Ivan Numladze, a native of sunny Georgia, and the American soldier Buck Kotzebue, a native of sunny Texas. Pictures by our special photo-reporter Captain G.Khomzor.”

“Krasnaya Zvezda”. 29 April 1945, Sunday. No.101 (6089). Source: Archive of “Krasnaya Zvezda” newspaper, 1941-1945
“Krasnaya Zvezda”. 29 April 1945, Sunday. No.101 (6089). Source: Archive of “Krasnaya Zvezda” newspaper, 1941-1945

Indeed, Lieutenant Kotzebue was native of Houston, Texas. An interesting fact is that he believed that his ancestors were loyal subjects of the Russian Empire, ethnic Baltic Germans. Captain Otto von Kotzebue (1787-1846) was famous for his explorations of Alaska – there is a city and a sound named after him there. Perhaps, Kotzebue was chosen for the caption because of the familiar ‘sunny Texas’ cliché, and Numladze may well be a curtsey to the Comrade Stalin, also ‘native of sunny Georgia’.

That would not be strange – for a long time official Soviet version credited Georgian Jr.Sergeant Meliton Kantaria and Russian Sergeant Mikhail Yegorov for raising the first Soviet flag over the Reichstag. In fact, a red flag was raised as early as the night of 30 April by a small group of volunteers, which included Sergeant Mikhail Minin, Sr.Sergants Gazi Zagitov, Alexandr Lisimenko, and Sergeant Alexei Bobrov. The papers show that they were recommended for the Hero of the Soviet Union decoration, but got a lower rank Order of the Red Banner.

looks like a scanned image from some book. Source: Picasa page by Ivanov Sergey.
This looks like a scanned image from some book. Source: Picasa page by Ivanov Sergey.

Poemas del río Wang already wrote in the “Soviet Capa” about the iconic photo “The flag of victory over the Reichstag” by Khaldei. For a long time it was widely unknown that the photo actually is staged and people on the photo are Private Alexei Kovalyov from Ukraine and Sergeant Abdulhakim Ismailov from Dagestan. Now it is also known that the photo was retouched to remove a ‘second watch’ from Ismailov’s right wrist as this could cause questions about looting. By the way, apparently the Soviet soldier in the ‘two soldiers’ photo has got two rings on his left hand.

All in all, the question was still open for me – is it ‘Numladze, a native of sunny Georgia’ or a soldier ‘from Azerbaijan’? On 4 February 2014, I finally thought why not to send an email and ask the photo agency.

Dear Sir/Madam

First of all, I would like to thank you for your noble work of storing historical images and making them available through your online services. My request concerns a famous 1945 photo, which is also stored in your archives:

The caption in German says: “Two soldies, one American and one Russian from Azerbaijan.” Fotograf: Jewgeni Chaldej / Zwei Soldaten, ein amerikanischer und ein russischer aus Aserbaidschan. / Aufnahmedatum: Juli 1945 / Aufnahmeort: Berlin / Inventar-Nr.: 1191. I wonder if your colleagues could give more insight about what was the origin of this caption.

The reason for this request is that other sources give different captions – for example http://victory.rusarchives.ru/index.php?p=31&photo_id=389 It says “Soldier of American Army Buck L. Kotzebue and Red Army soldier Ivan Numladze at the moment of meeting on Elbe.” Солдат американской армии Бак Л.Кацебу и красноармеец Иван Нумладзе в момент встречи на Эльбе. In fact, this caption is not accurate at least about the American soldier, since he is U.S. Army Private Byron Shiver of the 273rd Infantry Regiment.

Any additional information on the matter would be very much appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Many thanks, Araz

I received a short answer the day after:

Dear Sir

Thank you for your message. bpk distributes digital images by Chaldej on behalf of the agency Voller Ernst http://ernstvolland.de/en/

I presume it’s the photographer’s original caption. We don’t have further information on the portrayed soldiers.

Best regards
Jan Böttger

A man with a camera

Further explorations revealed that my question may not be the right one. It seems that the meetings initiated by Robertson’s patrol are covered solely by American photo-reporters, while Soviet photographers were shooting mainly the meetings at the East side. Who were these photo-reporters, was Khaldei among them?

A Soviet and an American soldier at one of the streets of Torgau. Source: RIA Novosti
A Soviet and an American soldier at one of the streets of Torgau. Source: RIA Novosti

One was obviously the special photo-reporter of “Krasnaya Zvezda” Captain Georgiy Khomzor (1914-1990). The photo of ‘two soldiers’ is most probably taken by him, since a very similar photo above is also credited to him. It is strange though that Khomzor’s photo, published in “Krasnaya Zvezda” with the caption that mentions Kotzebue and Numladze, was taken from a totally different angle.

Actually his surname is Khomutov, but during his early career as a retoucher he was signing his works with “Хом. 30 р.” meaning “Khom(utov). (Price: )30 r(ubles)”. This looks like “ХомЗОр” i.e. “Khomzor”, so this pseudonym stack to him. This frontline photo-reporter quickly earned great popularity during the war. Executive editor of “Krasnaya Zvezda” David Ortenberg remembers that when in May 1945 he was recommended for Order of the Patriotic War 2nd class decoration, the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front Marshal Ivan Konev (1897-1973) corrected the list and changed it to a higher rank Order of the Red Banner. The section titled “the brief, concrete description of personal feat of arms or merits” in the decoration paper mentions that “At the Elbe River, he was photographing the historical meeting of the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front with the American Army”.

A rare photo showing Lieutenant Kotzebue smoking his pipe by Khomzor. Source: RIA Novosti
A rare photo showing Lieutenant Kotzebue smoking his pipe by Khomzor. Source: RIA Novosti

Despite of this, today there is not even a Wikipedia page dedicated to him or a photo of him in the Internet to identify if the man with a camera on the picture below is Khomzor. Judging by his decoration he is not, it is not clear either if he is Captain or Sr.Lieutenant. The decorations on the person’s uniform match better Captain Alexandr Ustinov (1909-1995), photo-reporter of “Pravda” newspaper, who by July 1944 was already awarded Medal “For Courage” and Order of Red Star. But unlike this man Ustinov had a splendid chevelure, and his medal must have been of old 1939-1943 version with a short mount.

A man with a camera on one of the photos presented to the veterans by photo-reporter Ustinov. Shiver’s smiley face is visible behind. Source: Yandex photo album by user kleck1127
A man with a camera on one of the photos presented to the veterans by photo-reporter Ustinov. Shiver’s smiley face is visible behind. Source: Yandex photo album by user kleck1127
A photo of the same scene, taken by American Private Igor Belousovitch who was in Major Craig’s patrol (Craig is the leftmost American – they all put helmets on), shows most probably Ustinov working. Source: The Moscow Times
A photo of the same scene, taken by American Private Igor Belousovitch who was in Major Craig’s patrol (Craig is the leftmost American – they all put helmets on), shows most probably Ustinov working. Source: The Moscow Times

This photo was in the album Ustinov presented to the veterans including Silvashko, who after the war was a village school director and history teacher in Kletsk district in Belorussia. Silvashko later presented it to the Kletsk city museum and the scanned images appeared in the Internet.

Kotzebue in his recollections mentions that one of the first three “Russian”s they met at the Elbe River was a photographer in the ranks of Captain, who took their photos. This must be Khomzor, since Ustinov writes in his memoirs “С «лейкой» иблокнотом” (With ‘Leica’ and notebook) that he arrived at the Elbe River crossing only on 26 April. He also mentions that “Later a large group of American journalists, cameramen and my colleagues – photo-reporters got over to our side. Among Soviet reporters were Konstantin Simonov, Sergey Krushinski from ‘Komsomolka’ and Georgiy Khomzor – photo-reporter of ‘Krasnaya Zvezda’”. Interestingly, many sources, including Ustinov’s daughter claim that Ustinov was ‘the only Soviet photo-reporter, who witnessed the meeting at the Elbe’.

By the way, the title of the book “With ‘Leica’ and a notebook” is taken from a popular “Song of the war reporters”, written by Konstantin Simonov (1915-1979) and composed by Matvey Blanter (1903-1990) – the composer of the famous “Katyusha”. Simonov wrote it in 1943 as “Reporters’ drinking song”, but some words were censored for the popular official version.

От Москвы до Бреста
Нет такого места,
Где бы ни скитались мы в пыли,
С “лейкой” и с блокнотом,
А то и с пулеметом
Сквозь огонь и стужу мы прошли.
From Moscow down to Brest
There is no such a place,
Where we did not wander in the dust.
With “Leica” and a notebook,
And sometimes with machine gun
The fire and the frost we passed through.
(Жив ты или помер –
Главное, чтоб в номер
Материал успел ты передать.
И чтоб, между прочим,
Был фитиль всем прочим,
А на остальное – наплевать!)
(Be you alive or dead –
Main thing – for this issue
You would pass materials on time.
By the way, let it be
A wick to all others,
As for other things – don’t give a damn!)
Без глотка, товарищ,
(Без ста грамм, товарищ,)
Песню не заваришь,
Так давай за дружеским столом
(Так давай по маленькой хлебнем!)
Выпьем за писавших,
Выпьем за снимавших,
Выпьем за шагавших под огнем.
Without a toothful, comrade,
(Without a half-pint/100-gram, comrade)
A song one would cook hardly,
Around a friendly table let us have
(Come on, let us gulp down it bit by bit!)
A drink to who were writing,
A drink to who were filming,
A drink to who were marching under fire!
Есть, чтоб выпить, повод –
За военный провод,
За У-2, за “эмку”, за успех…
Как пешком шагали,
Как плечом толкали,
Как мы поспевали раньше всех.
For drink we have a reason
To military farewell,
To U-2, to the “M’ka”, to success…
How afoot were marching
With shoulder we were pushing,
And how we were on time ahead of all.
От ветров и стужи
(От ветров и водки)
Петь мы стали хуже,
(Хрипли наши глотки,)
Но мы скажем тем, кто упрекнет:
– С наше покочуйте,
С наше поночуйте,
С наше повоюйте хоть бы год.
From the winds and the frost
(From the winds and vodka)
Started singing we worse,
(Our throats became hoarse,)
But we shall say to those who blame us:
– Roam as much as we did,
Overnight as we did,
Fight as much as we did just a year.
Там, где мы бывали,
Нам танков не давали,
Но мы не терялись никогда.
(Репортер погибнет – не беда.)
Но на “эмке” драной
И с одним наганом
Мы первыми въезжали в города.
There, where we have been,
Tanks we never did get,
But we never ever lost our heart.
(A reporter would be killed – so what.)
On an “M’ka” tattered
And with one revolver
We were those who enter cities first.
(Помянуть нам впору
Мертвых репортеров.
Стал могилой Киев им и Крым.
Хоть они порою
Были и герои,
Не поставят памятника им.)
(We need now remember
Also dead reporters.
Kiev and Crimea are their grave.
Although they were sometimes
They were sometimes heroes,
One won’t put a monument up to them.)
Так выпьем за победу,
За свою газету,
А не доживем, мой дорогой,
Кто-нибудь услышит,
Снимет и напишет,
Кто-нибудь помянет нас с тобой.
So, let’s drink to the victory,
And to our newspaper,
And if we don’t live to see, my dear,
Somebody then will hear,
Will then film and will write,
Someone will remember us with you!
Photos of the similar scenes credited to Khomzor (left) and to Ustinov (right) differ by slight changes of the shooting angle. Were they working simultaneously or perhaps they shared photos for publications?
Photos of the similar scenes credited to Khomzor (left) and to Ustinov (right) differ by slight changes of the shooting angle. Were they working simultaneously or perhaps they shared photos for publications?

In short, the ‘two soldiers’ photo is almost certainly not taken by Khaldei. But it well may be that he took another photo of ‘two soldiers, one American and one Russian from Azerbaijan’ in Berlin. The “Spiegel” article, the “Soviet Capa” refers to, mentions an exhibition “Yevgeny Khaldei – The Decisive Moment. A Retrospective” shown at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin from 9 May to 28 July 2008. An old blog post by one of the visitors of this exhibition mentions this photo caption, but unfortunately the image links are broken, so we cannot check it visually.

Our hope is that knowledgeable readers may help with additional information in finding answers to the questions that still remain open.

I could stop my story right here, but while reading through the articles and books about the historical meeting at the Elbe, I came across a story I never heard before.

Oath of the Elbe

The historical link up was widely known to citizens of the USSR and “Встреча на Эльбе” i.e. “Meeting at the Elbe” was a catch-phrase in a popular Soviet culture. But I doubt that many heard about the Oath of the Elbe and a small group of veterans, who have been faithful to the memory of their first meeting during the Cold War years of distrust.

1945.04.28-KPravda-p1-2
Photos by Ustinov in “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. 28 April 1945, Saturday. No.100 (6120). Source: Archive of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper, 1941-1945 Photos by Ustinov in “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. 28 April 1945, Saturday. No.100 (6120). Source: Archive of “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper, 1941-1945

The abovementioned book – “Meeting on Elbe” collected mostly first hand, sometimes slightly conflicting accounts of the link up on 25 April 1945. Kotzebue gives dramatic details of their first encounter at the Elbe. They saw people wandering among the debris of destroyed column of cars on the other side of the river, next to the blown up pantone bridge. Judging by their decorations shining in sunlight, Kotzebue guessed that these are Soviets. On his command Private Ed Ruff fired two green rockets as an agreed identification signal. Their Polish guide, who joined them in Leckwitz, shouted “Americans”. ‘Russians’ got closer and shouted back calling them to the other side. This meant a lot for ordinary soldiers – the soldiers in front of you are not your enemies anymore – the war is over.

But six joyful Americans and their Polish guide witnessed a dreadful scene at the East side: to reach the coming down Soviets they had to get through heaps of charred bodies of German refugees, apparently killed when the bridge was destroyed. “Suddenly I realized that among all the rejoicing we were standing in the midst of a sea of corpses” remembers Private Joe Polowsky, who was among the Americans. Most of the killed were civilians – elderly, women and children. Polowsky recalls that Kotezbue asked him to translate “Let this day be the day of remembrance of innocent victims”. This is how they took the Oath of Elbe – a promise to do everything to not let this happen again. And quite symbolically the allies were communicating with each other in the language of their enemy – in German.

The dreadful scene of killed refugees in the background could be the reason why photos taken at this first meeting by the present photo-reporter, apparently Khomzor, are not public. Another reason may be the fact that Kotzebue later continued his careers in the US Army. He fought in Korean and Vietnam proxy wars with the Soviets, retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1967.

It seems that none of the photos in the Soviet newspapers are taken on 25 April, rather on 26-27 April, when official meetings between the allies continued. There were also many unofficial meetings – soldiers of two countries with hostile ideologies were spontaneously meeting and fraternizing for several days.

American Lieutenant Dwight Brooks (center, in helmet) smiles as he and other members of the 69th Infantry Division pose with Soviet officers from the 58th Guards Division in the German town of Torgau, Germany, late April, 1945. Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images. Source: waralbum.ru
American Lieutenant Dwight Brooks (center, in helmet) smiles as he and other members of the 69th Infantry Division pose with Soviet officers from the 58th Guards Division in the German town of Torgau, Germany, late April, 1945. Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images. Source: waralbum.ru.
The same group of Americans with Major Anfim Larionov, ‘zampolit’ i.e. deputy commander for political affairs of Silvashko’s 175th Guards Rifle Regiment. Source: waralbum.ru .
The same group of Americans with Major Anfim Larionov, ‘zampolit’ i.e. deputy commander for political affairs of Silvashko’s 175th Guards Rifle Regiment. Source: waralbum.ru.
Again, the same group of Americans with possibly Captain Vasiliy Neda , commander of Silvashko’s battalion. Source: waralbum.ru
Again, the same group of Americans with possibly Captain Vasiliy Neda, commander of Silvashko’s battalion. Source: waralbum.ru.

The front page of the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” from 28 April, shown above, features official letters of congratulations from the leaders of the three allied nations – from Stalin, Churchill and Truman. Before this, goes the order of the supreme commander-in-chief Stalin to fire a salute of 24 salvoes from 324 cannons on 27 April 1945 as a tribute to the participants of the historical event – 1st Ukrainian Front and Anglo-American troops.

But in fact, both Kotzebue and Robertson’s patrols met Soviet troops despite the order not to leave a 5-mile zone from their positions at the Mulde River. What saved them from a tribunal is that the commander of the 1st American Army General Hodges was very positive when heard the news and congratulated his generals. Both Major Larionov and Captain Neda, who together with Liutenant Silvashko and Sergeant Andreyev accompanied Robertson’s patrol to the headquarters of the 273rd Infantry Regiment late on 25 April, were soon after expelled from the Communist party and the Soviet army. Many participants of the link up recalled that after few days the troops that made contact with Americans were send back.

The members of Kotzebue’s patrol including Shiver appear on many photos in Ustinov’s album. It is easy to distinguish Americans – they all have got steel helmets. Soviets have not; instead they have got all their decorations on. Interestingly, the Soviet troops on the potential contact line received a special order to have a neat outfit, on meeting Americans to act friendly, but reservedly.

Judging by numbering, these photos apparently are taken on 26 April at the East bank of the Elbe, sometime around the official meeting between the commander of the American 69th Infantry Division Major General Emil F. Reinhardt and the commander of the Soviet 58th Guards Division Major General Vladimir Vasilyevich Rusakov. By the way, documents show that later in May Rusakov was awarded the highest decoration of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin. But the only fact I could find about his subsequent fate is that he passed away in 1951 at the age of 42.

So the scene at the ferry-boat crossing is probably a ‘reenactment’ of the meeting, which happened on 25 April, an hour after the initial meeting at the pontoon bridge.

Americans on the raft (from left to right) are Bob Haag, Ed Ruff, Carl Robinson and Byron Shiver. This photo appeared in the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” issue shown above.
Americans on the raft (from left to right) are Bob Haag, Ed Ruff, Carl Robinson and Byron Shiver. This photo appeared in the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” issue shown above.

-

Nurse Lyubov Kozinchenko gives flowers to paramedic Carl Robinson. Leftmost is the commander of the 6th Rifle Company Lieutenant Goloborodko, rightmost is the chief of the division artillery headquarters Major Anatoliy Ivanov and next to him is the commander of the 175th Guards Rifle Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Gordeyev.
Nurse Lyubov Kozinchenko gives flowers to paramedic Carl Robinson. Leftmost is the commander of the 6th Rifle Company Lieutenant Goloborodko, rightmost is the chief of the division artillery headquarters Major Anatoliy Ivanov and next to him is the commander of the 175th Guards Rifle Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Gordeyev.
1945.04-1681-0_11bb6_312552b8_orig 1945.04-1682-0_11bb7_94f75229_orig

1945.04-1683-0_11bb8_486cca21_orig

1945.04-1684-0_11bbc_4e91f931_orig

The photo above shows also one of our heroes – ‘Numladze’ – the rightmost standing, he looks exactly as on the ‘two soldiers’ photo. But the hero of the story about the Oath of Elbe is the American standing on jeep – Private Polowsky, native of Chicago.

The outburst of positive friendly rhetoric between the Western powers and Soviets quickly faded away. Few years later Mosfilm film studio was already shooting propaganda movie ‘Encounter at the Elbe’, which portrayed Americans as capitalist occupants of Germany in contrast to humanist Soviet troops. Victorious allies quickly became insidious enemies in the Cold War for decades.

But it seems that all these years for Polowsky the hunting image of killed children was a reminder of the Oath of Elbe – the promise to not let this happen again. Back at home he started a small American Veterans of Elbe Meeting / Veterans for Peace organization, keeping in touch with fellow veterans including some of the ‘Russians’ he met at the end of the war. Polowsky was sending petitions and open letters to world leaders, urging them to stop spreading of nuclear weapons and was campaigning for recognition of the Elbe Day as the day of pace and remembrance of all innocent victims of war. It seems that he succeeded in making his voice heard as the minutes of the UN General Assembly 197th Plenary Meeting, dated 25 April 1949, include the following statement by the President of the General Assembly:

The PRESIDENT announced that the following draft resolution had been presented by the delegations of Lebanon, the Philippines and Costa Rica:

“The General Assembly,

“Recalling that on 25 April 1945 the representatives of fifty nations met together at San Francisco to establish the United Nations in a spirit of understanding and dedication to peace;

“Recalling that on 25 April 1945 the soldiers of the Allied armies of the East and of the West joined together at the River Elbe in a spirit of common victory and devotion to peace,

“Recommends that on 25 April and each year thereafter on this date the States Members of the United Nations commemorate with appropriate ceremonies the anniversary of that significant day in world history.”

The Assembly would not be able to examine that draft resolution during its third session, but the President had felt that he should inform the delegations of the matter.

A small footnote to this note reads “No official document issued.” It is evident from the rest of the minutes that the General Assembly was captured rather by political ‘exchange of fire’ between the West and the Soviets. Later that year Germany was divided, as the western occupation zones were merged under the Federal Republic of Germany on 23 May and the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic on 7 October. A year later, in 1950 a war broke out in divided Korea, brining the USSR and the US to an indirect military confrontation.

poster-1943-1257548_original

poster-1947-ne-baluy-0_5e369_aafb9d7f_orig
Soviet posters from 1945 ‘…Red Army together with the armies of our allies will break the backbone of the fascist beast (I.Stalin)’ (left) and 1947 ‘Don’t Fool Around!’ (right). Source: Yandex photo album by user Unter Sergeant.

In the heat of anti-soviet propaganda Polowsky continued sending his open letters calling to “Renew the Oath at the Elbe”. He reportedly wrote down the formal version of the Oath in 1947, but I could not find its text in the Internet. One could ask if the oath was actually written on paper and signed. Short news from Associated Press, dated 22 April 1950 and entitled ‘Veteran Tears up the Elbe Peace Oath’, suggests that it was. The news quotes Polowsky’s companion in arms Ed Ruff saying “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on anymore… Instead of living up to that oath, the Russians have done everything to provoke another war”. It was probably at that time when Polowsky was prosecuted for ‘un-American activities’.

On the tenth anniversary of the Meeting at the Elbe the Americans sent an invitation to their fellow veterans from the USSR, but the ‘Russian’s declined it, some say because they were asked for fingerprints to get the US visas. Instead an official invitation came from the Soviets to visit Moscow on 9 May 1955 for the Victory Day celebrations. It seems that this was considered as a good occasion for normalizing relations between the two countries.

Elbe veterans visit Soviet Ambassador. Soviet Ambassador Georgi Zarubin, left, shakes hands with Murray Schulman of Queens Village, N.Y. as a group of U.S. Army veterans who participated in the Elbe River link-up with Russian troops 10 years ago call on him. April 25, 1955 the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Left to right are: Edwin Jeary, Robert Haag, Byron Shiver, John Adams, Charles Forrester, Zarubin, William Weisel, Yuri Gouk, Soviet second secretary, Elijah Sams, Schulman, Robert Legal, Fred Johnston and Claude Moore (AP Photo/John Rous). Source: AP Images .
Elbe veterans visit Soviet Ambassador. Soviet Ambassador Georgi Zarubin, left, shakes hands with Murray Schulman of Queens Village, N.Y. as a group of U.S. Army veterans who participated in the Elbe River link-up with Russian troops 10 years ago call on him. April 25, 1955 the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Left to right are: Edwin Jeary, Robert Haag, Byron Shiver, John Adams, Charles Forrester, Zarubin, William Weisel, Yuri Gouk, Soviet second secretary, Elijah Sams, Schulman, Robert Legal, Fred Johnston and Claude Moore (AP Photo/John Rous). Source: AP Images.

A group of some ten American veterans, including Polowsky and Shiver, got together in New York on 3 May. They have got their visas, but were short on funds for return flights to Paris, where Soviets were planning to meet them and bring to Moscow. To raise the required money Polowsky appealed to media, but without any response the group decided to break up and go home the next day. A telephone call close to midnight changed the situation – they were invited to a CBS television charity show “Strike It Rich”. Polowsky said that “they intended to represent the American point of view and be a credit to President Eisenhower and the American people”. The viewers from many states called the show to support the veterans. Eventually the sponsor of the show offered to underwrite $5,580 veterans needed and they started their journey on 6 May.

They arrived in Moscow late in night on 9 May. The following days they met the Soviet veterans, toured places of interest in Moscow, visited a kolkhoz farm, and had few official banquets in the US Embassy and the Central House of the Soviet Army. Interestingly, as a decade ago Ustinov was there with his camera and at the end of the visit he presented each of the veterans an album with photos from 1945 and 1955.

Shiver shows himself on the photo from 1945. Silvashko is the second from the right.
Shiver shows himself on the photo from 1945. Silvashko is the second from the right.
The Soviet and American veterans pose in front of the Central House of the Soviet Army.
The Soviet and American veterans pose in front of the Central House of the Soviet Army.

1955.05-1699-0_12578_380b5637_orig

1955.05-1700-0_12579_c1d451a_orig
Americans take a ride in the Moscow metro.
1955.05-1723-0_12610_8bbefc3e_orig
Polowsky (third from right) and Golobordko (first from right) toast at a banquet. The leftmost is probably Deputy Minister of Defense of the USSR, Marshal Vasily Sokolovsky.

Three years later, in 1958, five Soviet veterans, led by writer Boris Polevoy (1908-1981), who was a frontline reporter of ‘Pravda’ during the war, were on a reciprocal visit in the US, touring New York and Washington. Polowsky and his friends had to borrow money for entertaining their guests. Without official support from the US government this visit went unnoticed for public. With one exception: The Soviet veterans were invited to a baseball match at the Griffith Stadium between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees. When the commentator announced that there are World War Two veterans in the stadium, more than 10,000 spectators applauded as the guests were brought to home plate to meet slugger Mickey Mantle. Another reciprocal visit followed next year, and there were few reunions in 1970s.

For a decade, every 25 April, loyal to his oath, a Chicago taxi driver Joseph Polowsky held a personal vigil to commemorate the Elbe Day. On Michigan Avenue Bridge he would tell passer-byes the story of friendship at the Elbe River, call for stopping spread of nuclear weapons and for peace in the world. Polowsky’s last vigil was in 1983, he died of cancer in October that year. Knowing that he is terminally ill Polowsky made all arrangements for his last will – to be buried at the Elbe River in Torgau, East Germany. All permissions were granted and Polowsky’s funeral once again brought together Yanks and Reds at the Elbe in November 1983.

Visiting Polowsky’s grave became an important part of the annual Elbe Day celebrations in Torgau. He became a symbol of loyalty to the Oath of the Elbe, to the spirit of friendship. An American activist and songwriter Fred Small dedicated the song ‘At the Elbe’ from his 1988 album ‘I Will Stand Fast’ to Polowsky. I also came across an award-winning 1986 documentary ‘Joe Polowsky – An American Dreamer’ by West German director Wolfgang Pfeiffer. Unfortunately, I could not watch the film online, but the film still used for information page was the image of two soldiers, my story started with.

-

On the photo above Sylvashko pays tribute to the memory of his companion in arms. Probably the last Soviet survivor of those historical events, he passed away in 2010, at the age of 87. The American, shaking hands with Sylvashko on the famous photo – Robertson passed away back in 1999. All people, who took the Oath of the Elbe 69 years ago are no more. But the Cold War is still raging over the planet, spreading around the hot zones of many regional conflicts.

Other interesting links

“Встреча на Эльбе” (Encounter at the Elbe) – the 1949 Soviet propaganda movie in Russian that depicts the link up at the Elbe and subsequent division of Germany to occupation zones https://video.yandex.ru/users/cuvschinov-a/view/2478/

A 1980s interview with Joe Polowsky by American prize-winning author and radio personality Studs Terkel: http://studsterkel.org/results.php?summary=Polowsky Part 1 and Part 2.

“Встреча на Эльбе” (Meeting at the Elbe) – this 1990 documentary in Russian features the 45th anniversary celebrations of the link up in Germany http://net-film.ru/film-20264/

“Алтарь Победы: Встреча на Эльбе” (The Altar of the Victory: Meeting at the Elble) – this 2009 documentary in Russian from NTV series interestingly follows the criticism line of the movie released 60 years ago https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DB4Rj3EoIhI

“Встречи” (Meetings) – this 2011 documentary in Russian is about Igor Belousovitch, born in Shanghai son of Russian emigrants, who was part of the Craig‘s patrol: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQDcJG-ms2o

In English

A year of solitude

A yearend message from WordPress, summarizing my year in blogging revealed a depressing fact by stating “In 2012, there were 0 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 25 posts”. Even the wording of this automated message attests how unimaginably lazy writer I am.

My Hungarian friend said to me once “you – Turks are very good in sitting and telling beautiful long stories that fade away as a smoke of hookah”, while we were visiting him in Budapest back in March 2012. Indeed, I have so many stories to tell: conclusion of the story about my search for the fate of my grand-uncle killed in the World War Two, accompanied by his letters from the front that were stored in my father’s archive; an amazing story of soldier letters that were sent in 1941 but never did it to home; and a story of one of those followed through the nightmares of Nazi concentration camp with rare photos of prisoner life; a story of forgotten letters in stone abandoned in our old village cemetery; a story of one song, which spans over thousands of kilometres and five nations, even without them knowing about it; a story of Persia, which is not Persian and many more…

Used old book seller on Islam Safarli Street.
Used old book seller Google Maps pin on Islam Safarli (1923-1974) Street named after an Azerbaijani soviet poet. Called Mashadi Azizbekov (1876-1918) Street after one of the 26 Baku Commissars of the short-living Baku Soviet Commune till 1991, it was named Vorontsov after the Russian viceroy of Caucasus Prince Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856) till 1922-23, and Fonarnaya (“lantern” in Russian) Street till 1852. Baku, October 2011

All these stories wait for their turn in folders, full of hundreds of photos, maps and reference materials in the memory of my good old laptop, which greets me with an alarming message “1720 – SMART Hard Drive detects imminent failure (Failing Attr: 05); Please backup the contents of the hard drive and run HDD SelfTest in F10 Setup.” every time I start it up.

A curious post at Poemas del río Wang reminds about an important historical aspect of writing in the face of imminent end. And its title To write, to live suggests a rephrasing for the famous “Cogito ergo sum” by René Descartes (1596-1650) as “Scribo ergo sum” i.e. “I write, therefore I am”. So, here is my next post after a year of solitude and non-existence.

Instead of a prologue

If I give it a thought, what is lacking for writing down my stories can be expressed by one word in my mother tongue – qeyrət. Used often next to another word – namus i.e. honour, its meaning is somehow blurred.

Namus and qeyrət in Polyglot electronic dictionary.
Namus and qeyrət in Polyglot electronic dictionary.

In fact, it comes from Arabic غيرة – gheyrat, which has two meanings: one is jealousy, suspecting rivalry in love; another is passion, eagerness, fervour or zeal. Interestingly, jealousy and zeal also have same roots, and it is valid for Russian, too, with ревность and рвение.

Symbolically, Qeyrət was the name chosen by founders for the printing house in Tbilisi that started publishing the satirical Molla Nasreddin magazine in 1906. Against all odds, their passion stemmed probably from recognizing the historical responsibility to write and we already wrote about how they contributed to keeping up the torch of enlightenment for many nations in the region. And thinking about what my Hungarian friend said to me, I would agree that verses written some century ago by prominent Azerbaijani satirical poet Mirza Alakbar Sabir (1862-1911), who was an active contributor to Molla Nasreddin, are still valid today:

Biz qoca qafqazlı igid ərlərik,
Cümlə hünərməndlərik, nərlərik,
İş görəcək yerdə söz əzbərlərik,
Aşiqik ancaq quru, boş söhbətə,
Kim nə deyər bizdə olan qeyrətə?!
We are gallant men from Caucasus great old,
Each is a valiant, courageous dawg,
Where is a need for action we learn by heart words,
We are in love only with vain, meaningless talks,
Who has to say something against our honour?!

Bulldozing our past

A short post at Poemas del río Wang by Kinga this autumn has touched my heart. I believe, many would be amazed how precisely the author of To know a city described their own feelings:

I left my native city Budapest two years ago, and according to the state of things, forever. If I close my eyes, the images I preserve about her are just as fresh and vivid as if I were still living there… I had to realize that, despite my intentions, each new city can be some kind only in comparison to Budapest… This is not for homesickness or any similar feeling. In the course of thirty-five years, while I lived there, the city with all her beloved and hated details has become a part of me, just like my skeleton…

Yet one can experience the same feeling without moving anywhere, since comparisons can be made not only over the distances i.e. in space, it can be made also over the years i.e. in time. So thinking about my home city, I can say that Baku of my childhood, Baku of historical side-streets with green balconies buried in vine is fading away.

A beautiful mansion on Islam Safali Street.
A beautiful mansion Google Maps pin on Islam Safali Street – it has the city emblem with three flames, approved back in 1883. March 2013

The street I grew up is in the belt of historical buildings dating back to XIX century, surrounding the old inner city. During the decades of soviet rule most of the old houses on the narrow back streets were left to dilapidate slowly, the beauty of their facades were obscured by net of electrical wires and massive pipes. Most of the original owners probably fell victim to Bolshevik repressions. Inhabitants and new owners also did not seem to appreciate the historical value or architectural beauty of their houses much, building up awkward extensions, especially on balconies, drilling century-old walls to install their air conditioning units and satellite dishes. Yet from underneath the dust of time and neglect quite a few jewels are still shining.

We already touched upon “culpable historico-architectural negligence” accompanying massive construction work in central Baku. Back then demolitions were ongoing since 2009 to open up space for so-called Winter Park/Boulevard. Even before here or there historical buildings were falling victim to the construction boom in the centre, but this massive demolition was unprecedented by its magnitude.

The project was initially designed back in soviet 1980s, but envisaged covering a larger area and preservation of some 20 historical buildings. Decades after things went quite differently as few new skyscrapers were already built in the same area. While the central Baku is infamous for its astronomical property prices, the owners disagreeing with proposed compensations were simply thrown out of their homes, and journalistic investigations suggest massive misappropriation.

Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Baku in May 2012, put the forced evictions under the spotlight. The story made its way even to the UN in Action program #1320 back in November 2011 and was highlighted by Human Rights Watch in February 2012. While most of the reports highlight the violation of property rights of the citizens, the damage to historical heritage is in fact more dramatic and irrecoverable. The irony of the situation is that while historical houses were torn down, soviet buildings in the surrounding area were face-lifted to have “historical” facades. Baku is indeed “a city of contrasts”.

Demolition area in central Baku as seen in an 1898 map of Baku.

Demolition area in central Baku as seen in Google Maps.
Demolition area in central Baku Google Maps pin as seen in Google Maps and the same area in an 1898 map of Baku

Looking at the 1898-1990 plan of “existing and projected disposition of governorate city of Baku”, you can see the old names in Russian of the streets affected by demolitions:

БалаханскаяBalakhany Street was renamed as Basin after one of the 26 Baku Commissars during the soviet times and currently is called Fuzuli Street after medieval Azerbaijani Turk poet Muhammad Fuzuli (1483-1556). This street was connecting the Quba bazaar square to highway leading to the Balakhany suburb of Baku, where the majority of oil fields were concentrated.

БондарнаяCoopers’ Street during soviet times was named as Dimitrov, probably after the Bulgarian communist activist and political leader. With regaining of independence it was renamed after Shamsi Badalbeyli (1911-1986) – famous Azerbaijani theatre director and actor. This street owed its old name to the first oil boom in Baku – the street was occupied by cooperage workshops riveting barrels for transporting the oil. This was also historical quarter of Mountain Jews in Baku.

ЧадроваяChadra Street took its name from Muslim women’s traditional full-body-length cloak. It is not clear whether the reason for it was existence of many chadra shops there. In 1920s, quite symbolically its name was changed to Emancipated Azerbaijani woman Street. Later it was renamed after Mirza Agha Aliyev (1883-1954) – prominent Azerbaijani actor.

Novruz bonfire in the demolition area.
Novruz bonfire in the demolition area. Photo by Tamás Sajó

Although there were neglectful voices claiming that the area was just one anti-sanitary dilapidating lumber, reactions to Winter Park demolitions in Azerbaijani internet were generally bitter – from open condemnation by veteran blogger Ali Novruzov to expressions of sadness by prominent member of Russian-speaking net Vyacehslav Sapunov. Despite all civil grumbles by spring of 2011, when the photo above was taken, the large part of the demolition was already completed.

Photo by Mubariz Mustafazade
Photo by Mubariz Mustafazade

I wonder who remembers now the lonely voice of artist Mir Teymur, a decade ago fighting a hopeless fight for Icheri Sheher – ancient Inner City of Baku. In 2009 the “Walled City of Baku, including the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower” was removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger, where it was put in 2003. Yet native of the fortress Mir Teymur testifies that its peculiar historical atmosphere along with many archaeological sites was destroyed by illegal construction even before December 2000, when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. I should admit that I did not feel the magnitude of the loss until two years ago spent half a day walking through the back streets of Icheri Sheher away from the usual tourist routes.

Stopping the time in Baku

Collage of architectural elements showing construction dates. Photos by Anar Gasimov
Collage of architectural elements showing construction dates. Photos by Anar Gasimov

There is a saying that people tend to value things only after loosing them. Recently I find myself taking photos of the old buildings while walking along the historical streets of Baku. You often see beautiful details you never noticed before just passing by for years. And it seems that I am not alone: several blog posts by our compatriot Anar Gasimov, who currently lives in Russia, contain lots of amateur photos of buildings and architectural elements.

Photos by Dena Barmas
Photos by Dena Barmas

Photography is a great invention letting us stop the time and preserve images caught in a blink of shutter. Our friend as well has captured sweet moments of our small city tour before the wedding party back in June 2009. Old city walls of Baku are visible in the background and you can see a small gate on the right photo. If you get closer you would notice an inscription in Arabic characters and a stone clock right above this gate. Hour and minute hand carved in stone look like a nice metaphor for stopping the time.

It is 4:00 on the stone clock at the Inner City gate.
It is 4:00 on the stone clock at the Inner City gateGoogle Maps pin.

I wonder how many people passing under this inscription notice it, let alone know what it says. Years ago I came across a group of tourists when their quite reputable guide was claiming that “this memorial indicates exact time and place where general Tsitsianov was killed”. But I already knew that it is not so.

Russian commander of Georgian origin Pavel Tsitsianov (1754-1806) was raised to the rank of infantry general for capturing the fortress of Ganja city in 1804. Governor of Ganja Javad khan Ziyadoghlu Qajar (1748-1804) was killed in the bloody battle, the city was renamed as Elizavetpol in honour of Emperor Alexander I’s wife and Ganja khanate was abolished. Some other khans were more tractable, as in 1805 two of them signed treaties making khanates of Garabagh and Shirvan protectorates of Russian Empire.

Reproduction of the illustration by M.Andreev “Assassination of count P.D.Tsitsianov in Baku” in the book “Conquered Caucasus” published in 1904 in St. Petersburg.
Reproduction of the illustration by M.Andreev “Assassination of count P.D.Tsitsianov in Baku” in the book “Conquered Caucasus” published in 1904 in St. Petersburg. Source: Online Library Tsarskoe Selo.

Similarly, in February 1806 Huseynqulu khan of Baku met Tsitsianov with his small delegation outside the second city walls (that were destroyed later in 1886) near Shamakhy gate to hand over the keys of the fortress. Suddenly one of the khan’s people shot the general dead from his pistol. Caught unawares in a subsequent skirmish Russian detachment retreated, yet it postponed capture of Baku only for seven months.

So, in fact general Tsitsianov was killed in a quite opposite side of the old cityGoogle Maps pin, where in 1846 a memorial pyramidal column was erected by order of the Russian viceroy of Caucasus Vorontsov, currently near the statue of a great poet Nizami of Ganja (1141-1209).

“Plan de la forteresse de Bakou en Perse, avec lattaque des Russiens - Scheme of the Baku fortress in Persia, with attack of Russians”. Second city wall of Baku is visible on this XVIII century map, describing bombardment of the city preceding capture of Baku in July 1723.
Plan de la forteresse de Bakou en Perse, avec lattaque des Russiens – Scheme of the Baku fortress in Persia, with attack of Russians”. Second city wall of Baku is visible on this XVIII century map, describing bombardment of the city preceding capture of Baku in July 1723. Source: National Library of France.

Coming back to the inscription under the stone clock, my father showed it to me when I was a child. Although I knew the symbols, the only thing I could clearly understand there was the date, since the inscription was seemingly in Persian. When after years my father bought the Volume I of the Corps of Epigraphic Monuments of Azerbaijan by venerable archaeologist and epigraph Meshedi-khanym Nemat (1924), the first thing I looked up in the book was that very inscription. This volume published in 1991 in Russian contains more than 400 specimens read by the author during her field work over the previous 40 years, as well as collected from different archives and museum collections. This one is at page 109 under number 346:


به اشاره علیه جناب امپراطور اعظم و قیصر افخم

آلکساندر سیم و بسعی جناب مجدت همراه کلانتر شهر باکو ستانسلاو

ایوانج دمیون یویج و بدستیاری همت … سمیونیج کاندیناوف

آقا تعمیر داروازه قدیم بعمل آمد ۱۴ ذیقعدة ۱۳۰۷

By the highest order of the greatest emperor and most glorious Caesar

Alexander the Third and with efforts of glorious mayor of the city of Baku Stanislav

Ivanovich Demyunovich and with help of generosity of mister … Semyonich Kandinov

the repair of the old gate was finished on 14 Zu-l-qa’da 1307 (= 2 July 1890).

It seems that this memorial inscription passed unnoticed through the decades of soviet rule when many imperial monuments, including Tsitsianov column, were destroyed. Interestingly, it was not completely and correctly read. Not knowing Persian I hardly can do any corrections, yet in the unread part you can see the word “معمار” i.e. “architect”. The date also can be read as “۴ ذ.القعدة ۱۳۰۷”, and then it is 4 Zu-l-qa’da 1307, which is 22 June 1890. Finally, by knowing the exact names of both mayor and architect now we can correct it:

By the highest order of the greatest emperor and most glorious Caesar Alexandr the Third and with efforts of glorious mayor of the city of Baku Stanislav Ivan[ov]ich Despot-Zenovich and with help of generosity of …architect… Anton Semyon[ov]ich Kandinov the repair of the old gate was finished on 14 Zu-l-qa’da 1307 (2 July 1890).

“Muslim cemetery in Baku” – a cartoon in Molla Nasreddin magazine. Alexander Newsky Cathedral is visible in the background.
“Muslim cemetery in Baku” – a cartoon in Molla Nasreddin magazine. Alexander Newsky Cathedral is visible in the background. Source: flickr page by Mohamad Tavakoli.

So, this clock and short dedication carved in stone is probably the only memorial honouring these two gentlemen. During his Baku visit in October 1888 the Russian Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894) stayed with his family, including the last Tsar, then crown prince Nikolay II, in the Governor’s House very close to the restored old gate. It was the first and last visit of Russian monarchs to Baku. Among many other official ceremonies the imperial family laid the foundation of the Alexander Newsky Cathedral in the area of old Muslim cemetery. City community was against this plan, but their petitions and proposals of alternative areas were in vain. Called “qyzylly kilsa” i.e. “gilt church” by common people, it became a dominant building in the cityscape of Baku, once completed a decade later in 1898.

Two decades later House of Romanov perished in the turmoil of Bolshevik Revolution. The cathedral was blown up in 1936, and even the house they stayed in was demolished recently in 2006 to give a space for a new multi-store hotel. Yet the stone clock is still there showing the same time from centuries ago.

The stone clock on Kichik Qala Street shows 9 hours sharp.
The stone clock on Kichik Qala StreetGoogle Maps pin shows 9 hours sharp.

There are other stone clocks in Baku many probably pass by without noticing. One is just two turns away at Kichik Qala (Small Fortress) Street. The facade also has a beautiful inscription, but I could not find it in the book by Meshedi-khanym Nemat. It is easy to read the bottom line that contains shahada i.e. Muslim declaration of belief “بحقّ اشهد انلا اله الا لله” “Rightly, I testify that there is no god but the God”, yet I was unable to decipher the rest of the text.

It is 1:47 on the stone clock at Torgovaya.
It is 1:47 on the stone clock at TorgovayaGoogle Maps pin.

This stone clock overlooks the most popular promenade of Baku at Nizami Street, still often called by its old Russian name – Torgovaya i.e. Trade Street. The same building has another stone clock on the opposite facade on Tolstoy Street, called Gimnazicheskaya i.e. Gymnasium Street in the old map. There is also a small plate with the year 1890 and the name “Гаджи Раджабъ-Али Гаджиевъ” of the owner – a merchant from Shamakhy Haji Rajabali Hajiyev. Unfortunately, I could not take a good photo of that side of the building, since every time it was in the dark of the shadow of the new skyscrapers raised nearby.

Another stone clock on Haji Rajabali’s house shows 2:57 hours.
Another stone clock on Haji Rajabali’s houseGoogle Maps pin shows 2:57 hours.

At the crossing of Tolstoy Street with Zargarpalan i.e. Jewellers Street you can see another building with a stone clock. This unofficial name of the street was restored in 1993, but officially in Russian it was called Spasskaya till 1929, when it was renamed after an Azerbaijani Bolshevik Qasım İsmayilov. A small inscription over the main door indicates the year both in Muslim and Christian chronology – 1305 (١٣٠٥) and 1887.

It is 12 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds on the stone clock at Zargarpalan.
It is 12 hours, 20 minutes and 30 seconds on the stone clock at ZargarpalanGoogle Maps pin.

While I was taking the photo a young gentleman, apparently living in the house, came to the doors. To my question about history of the building he answered that the elders say that this is Naghiyev’s first private mansion. This name is familiar to Baku citizens along with the name of Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev (1823-1924) – another oil baron, we shortly wrote about, who is remembered for his philanthropic work. Indeed, Musa Naghiyev (1849-1919) funded building of the city’s largest hospital and donated the beautiful Ismailiyya Palace to the Muslim Charitable Society. Yet his name survived decades of soviet rule, living in the city legends, portrayed as a tight-fisted, stingy millionaire, often appearing as Taghiyev’s antipode.

Our short conversation ended around demolition of old quarters in Baku, not surprisingly, since there are rumours that these streets also fall under the general reconstruction plan. The answer to my “Is it possible that they demolish this building, too?” reflected a bitter reality “Why not, it they already destroyed even more beautiful historical buildings”.

A small stone clock on Zargarpalan Street shows 12:20 hours.
A small stone clock on Zargarpalan Street shows 12:20 hours.

My interlocutor was not able to give any explanation about the time on the clock. So the secret of stone clocks of Baku remain uncovered for me. Are they showing the time when the foundation was laid, is it some other memorable moment such as birth of the first child or maybe some date is encoded on the clock dial? Or perhaps these stone clocks are symbols of belief in the foretold arrival of Mahdi the redeemer from the last prophet Muhammad’s lineage, perhaps they are signs of allegiance to Imam az-Zaman i.e. Leader of the Time as Shia Muslims call him in their prayers for start of his reign, which would end tyranny in the world, would bring piece and justice to the humankind?

Instead of epilogue

This April citizens of Baku witnessed a unique action, as a three-store historical building next to the Winter Park construction area, known as Hajinskys’ house, was “slid” for some 10 metres “instead of being demolished”. In Baku, it was the first structure relocation implemented, a process known to the history since 1455 relocation of St.Mark belfry in Bologna, Italy by Aristotle Fioravanti (1415-1486).

The city administration announced this as early as in December 2012, and many regretted that some other “unlucky” buildings in the same area had a different, tragic fate. Unlike those buildings, this “lucky” one was under spotlight of all the local televisions.

I visited the area in March, before starting to write this post. It turned out that a new wave of demolitions is to be started on Dilara Aliyeva (1929-1991) Street, named after Azerbaijani philologist and human rights activist (former First of May and Surakhany Street). There is allegedly another Naghiyev mansion among the houses destroyed.

Winter Park construction area. 22 March 2013
Winter Park construction area. 22 March 2013

There were few beautiful houses, seemingly inhabited, standing among the ruins. I took a picture of one with a tricolour national flag hung between balconies. One week after the residents of the same house were in trouble as their gas supply pipeline was damaged and they were said that there was an order to not repair it since the building is to be demolished, although they did not receive any official notification yet.

Many buildings are already demolished on Dilara Aliyeva Street. 22 March 2013.
Many buildings are already demolished on Dilara Aliyeva Street. 22 March 2013.

It was not immediately apparent to me that the construction of Winter Park is going with redoubled efforts just to get it ready by 10 May, so-called Gül bayramı – unofficial Flower Festival, which since year 2000 marks the birthday of the late president Haydar Aliyev (1923-2003), father of the current president. Father Aliyev is called no less than ulu öndər and ümummilli lider i.e. Great Chief and Whole Nation’s Leader by the official propaganda, and he is indeed the Saviour of the Nation, as the day when he came to power back in 1993 is the National Salvation Day – a public holiday in Azerbaijan.

It is not exactly known how much the Flower Festival costs the nation’s budget, as the eccentric mayor of Baku, claiming that “he will turn all devils into angels in the hearts” of those, who criticize the demolitions, just stated that “I don’t even think about finances, but this year we will have 2.5 times more flowers than in the last year”. Considering that the costs of the last year celebrations were estimated around $60-80 millions you get an impressive amount.

The cost of the marvellous “sliding” of the historical Hajinsky’s house also was not disclosed to public. The implementing company Bresser Eurasia BV that brought the Dutch Bresser to do the job has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Azerbaijan Architects’ Union, which probably means more similar jobs in Baku. Mr Leon Sweegers, the chairman of Institutional Business Development BVBA, the company which owns Bresser Eurasia BV, unlike his Azerbaijani partner, readily gives interviews in Baku, claiming a world record with 18,000-tonne building relocated. At least, in this case money is spent to champion something, which preserves the historical heritage.

Meanwhile, with public not being clearly informed about reconstruction plans for central Baku, concerns grow about the fate of other beautiful buildings in historical quarters of the city.

Acknowledgements

Most of the historical materials about Baku were taken from Our Baku virtual encyclopaedia on the history of the city http://www.ourbaku.com.