Friday, November 5, 2010

History Project: Robert Capa and Fascism

            Before there was Robert Capa, there was a young jewish, leftist, Hungarian by the name of Endre ErnÅ‘ Friedmann. Meaning he couldn’t help but be diametrically opposed to the Nazis since birth.
                Friedmann was born Oct 22, 1913 in Budapest and from a young age opposed the dictatorship there. At 17 Friedmann attended a demonstation that was interrupted by the police. Friedmann was wounded by an officer’s saber and thrown in jail. Later they released him under the condition that he leaves Hungary for good.
                Friedmann decided to move to what was then the world’s center for culture: Berlin. In 1930 the Nazis had yet to take control of Germany, and any sign of the atrocities that would occur throughout Europe in the years to follow were hidden from sight.
                 He planned this place to be where he started his new life by studying Journalism at the Radical School for Political Studies. Having a chip on his shoulder already from his experiences in Hungary, Friedmann wanted to become newspaper reporter and fight fascism with his words rather than a gun.
                As like many people in life Friedmann stumbled across his calling by complete accident. Unable to find a job Friedmann, in desperation, went to a childhood friend’s photography studio  to learn more about this new photographic technology sweeping Germany.
                Using the connection he gained at the photography studio, Friedmann eventually landed a job as a photographer’s assistant, until he heard of his golden opportunity. Trotsky, relentlessly hunted in Russia, was going to Copenhagen to speak.
                Friedmann traveled there with little more than a cheap camera in his pocket, but the photos he took of Trotsky were not at all amateurish. His pictured revealed a man passionate in his beliefs, speaking to a crowd of attentive listeners, drawn in on pure charisma. Here is where Friedmann began his transformation into the Capa we all know.
                When the Nazis took over Germany Friedmann once again found himself a refugee. He fled to Paris and once again had trouble locating work, somewhat due to his irresponsible practices while on the job, mostly gambling.
                He continued to have trouble finding work until he met his lover Gerda Taro, who was also a Jewish political refugee from Germany. Gerda sold Friedmann’s pictures and introduced him to every editor she knew. However business still wasn’t good enough.
                They came up with the idea of creating a famous American photographer named Robert Capa and try selling off Friedmann’s pictures as belonging to Capa. Eventually everyone found out that there was no Robert Capa but the pictures were Friedmann’s, but by that time no one cared due to the quality of the photographs. Friedmann then decided to just change his name. So it was that Robert Capa was born at the age of 22.
                Together Capa and Taro went into Spain several times to cover the civil war there between Republican forces and Franco’s fascist army. There Capa took one of his most famous photos of the death of a man at the instant when a bullet flies through his head. He was also famous for his coverage of the bombing of Madrid.
                In Spain Capa also gained a reputation for following the soldiers. No matter if it was sitting around in a trench in the quite before the storm, or following them into the chaos of battle, Capa was always there with his camera.
                In July 1937 Taro went off by herself to cover fighting in the town of Brunete just west of Madrid. It would be her last assignment. Taro was killed in an accident where a tank went out of control and crashed into her. Capa found out about her death while reading the news in his dentist’s chair.
                Grief-stricken, Capa took an assignment as far away as he could. He went to China and covered the Japanese invasion there. When he finally returned to Spain the tide of war had turned. As soon as he crossed the French-Spanish border he was greeted by hordes of refugees heading into France. They believed the fascists were going to win the war and wanted live in France rather than under Franco.
                In 1941, Capa went to Britain to cover the “blitz” on London for Life magaine. Hitler’s bombers ruthlessly bombed the city every night. It was an attempt to demoralize the British into surrendering, but Capa found it had the opposite effect.
                Capa personalized the even by following one quintessential British family through their daily life in London. They turned out to be the perfect example of British courage and resistance to the Nazis.
                When Capa heard that her mother and brother, who fled Hungary just after the Nazis took over, were now in New York he set off for America. This lead to Capa taking assignments all over the U.S., he covered elk expeditions, politics, and the West.
                Capa thought that most Americans were nonchalant about the war in Europe. It was before Pearl Harbor so direct American involvement into the war hadn’t happened yet. This saddened Capa as wanted to cover the stories about the war and continue to fight fascism with his camera.
                When American inevitably entered the war, Capa thought this was his chance to get some of the work he wanted. However, since Hungary was now under Nazi occupation Capa was considered an enemy alien. He was told to give up his camera and not to leave New York.
                Capa fought back with a letter to the state department saying he left Hungary long before the Nazis took over, how he hated fascism, and that he wanted his pictures to be used against them. Soon after Capa received a visa and hopped on a boat for North Africa.
                He followed Allied troops from Tunisia to Sicily before receiving orders to return to London. There he met up with another love interest called affectionately “Pinky.” The two partied regularly with such old friends as Ernst Hemingway, who Capa met long ago during the war in Spain. It was a sort of “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
                Capa found out he was in London to cover the invasion of France.  The consonant gambler volunteered to go in with the first wave on Omaha beach. In the ensuing carnage after the door of the landing craft came down, Capa took 134pictures of Omaha beach that fateful day. Only 11 survived an accident by a nervous developer in London.
                Capa followed Allied forces throughout France despite offers to fly back to London. He was obsessed with being were the story was and made every life-threatening move he could, provided it gave him the photo he wanted, even parachuting into Germany with the 17th airborne division. The ensuing battle they would go through claimed the lives of over a third of them. Capa could’ve easily been one of them.
                Capa’s hatred of fascism came from early in his life, but it didn’t come to a peak until he matured. It uprooted his life several times, killed many of his friends including his love, Taro. Capa was a great photography, but also a vengeful spirit in the Allied army against facism.