New Photos of the Chapaiev Battalion

June 11, 2015
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An exhibit  in Hamburg displays images of the Chapaiev Battalion taken by soldiers and Gerda Taro, from the collection of Alfred Kantorowicz and the ICP.

Dr. Alfred Kantorowicz, Berlin, June 1950. Photo Humboldt University.

Dr. Alfred Kantorowicz, Berlin, June 1950. Photo Humboldt University.

An exhibition of photos of the Chapaiev Battalion, part of the XIII International Brigade, opened at the Instituto Cervantes in Hamburg, Germany last November. The show included some 50 photos from the estate of German writer and interbrigadista Alfred Kantorowicz taken by soldiers as well as by the young war photographer Gerda Taro, loaned from the International Center of Photography, New York . The Henri Cartier-Bresson silent documentary film With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain that contains sequences shot by Taro or Robert Capa on the Córdoba front, loaned from ALBA, was also on exhibit.


Kantorowicz, exiled in France since 1933, joined the battalion in 1937.


36052_I_teaser-SpanKriegThe images focused on the Chapaiev Battalion on the Córdoba front near the mining town of Peñarroya where it was engaged in battle from April-July 1937. Other pictures portray the battalion from its foundation in November 1936 to the Brunete offensive of July 1937. Alfred Kantorowicz, a German Jewish writer and member of the German communist Party, exiled in France since 1933, joined the battalion in 1937 assuming a position as information officer. After Brunete, he edited a book titled Chapaiev with narratives by his comrades-in-arms. This book contains photographs taken by the combatants that show their day-to-day life. Recently a large number of additional pictures taken by Chapaiev combatants were discovered in the Kantorowicz estate in Hamburg shown now for the first time.    


Recently a large number of pictures taken by Chapaiev combatants were discovered in the Kantorowicz estate.


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An image from the exhibit. Photo Benedikt Behrens

Gerda Taro, a young Jewish exile from Leipzig, Germany, who like Kantorowicz was exiled in Paris since 1933, arrived with her partner Robert Capa at the end of June 1937 to shoot fascinating photos that were published in the international press. Taro took dozens of photos showing the front life of the battalion. Taro’s pictures also show the life of the civilian population near the frontline and the relation between them and the combatants, who helped the peasants harvesting wheat, one of her favorite subjects during the war. The negatives of this photos were discovered only recently in the famous “Mexican Suitcase” that is now located at the International Center of Photography in New York. The exhibition also shows pictures by Taro at Brunete, which were her very last ones. She died tragically as a result of an accident during the retreat of the Republican troops in late July 1937.                  

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