At a photo lab in Rochester, New York, negatives of pioneer photojournalist Robert Capa are in the process of being restored and will once again be brought to the public eye after remaining dormant and supposedly lost forever. The Figaro news report in Paris says – and maybe Gerda Taro will also be brought to the public eye! I’m always looking for Paris love stories and what could be more romantic than a couple fleeing Nazi Germany and Hungary – meeting in Paris, taking on new names and in Capa’s case an American identity (neither Capa or Taro are photojournalists original names) to photograph the Spanish Civil war. If this isn’t the synopsis for a movie in the making – it should be. According to Ron Steinman’s article Capa and Taro Together at Last they arrived in Paris in 1937. Taro was eventually killed on the front lines in Spain – while Capa remained in Paris. The Spanish Civil was an important factor stimulating the arrival of American expats in Paris between the two World Wars. A number of Americans had arrived in Europe to participate in Spain’s civil war as ‘freedom fighters’. It’s thought that at least 1000 American volunteers died, most of them coming from New York City. The name of the American battalion that participated was the Lincoln Brigade.
The last commander of the Lincoln Battalion was Milton Wolff, who survived, served in World War II, and died in January 2008. His obit is on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive website.
Read the obit and you’ll note that Robert Capa photographed Wolff (who had been described by some as a tall, gaunt Lincoln) and Ernest Hemingway standing together. I thought this quote about the photo was amusing:
“A few weeks later, the photograph appeared in a New York Yiddish newspaper. To her surprise, Wolff’s mother finally discovered what her absent son was doing in Spain. Not, as he had reported in his letters, working in a factory so that a Spanish worker could fight for the Republic”
(be sure to read the whole Wolff obit, especially his comments about Hemingway!)
For Gerda Taro who did not survive the war, a huge funeral was staged in Paris with a procession leading to Pere Lachaise cemetery where she was buried.
Even though her tombstone was designed by Giacometti, because the lease on the burial site expired, her tomb was expunged and the monument supposedly destroyed. During German occupation, the burial site had already had its inscription deleted (it is unclear whether the subsequent destruction of the monument occurred during occupation or at a later date – maybe somebody from Les Amis de Pere Lachaise cemetery can clarify what happened to Gerda Taro’s tomb marker?)
A hero compared to Joan of Arc one day becomes an unknown statistic when the burial site is no longer paid for.
So, the moral of this story is, if you ever get buried in Paris, leave enough money behind to ensure your place in history.
If you’d like to see photographs taken of Paris in the 1930s era (including photos by Robert Capa) the Hotel de Ville’s show Paris en Couleurs will be running until March 31st, 2008.
Mary Blume writes in her IHT story Coloring Paris: A photographic homage to the city “the irrepressible Robert Capa forsook black and white for color shots of girls swinging through the streets in Dior’s ‘New Look'”
Hotel de Ville (Paris’s town hall) is located at the metro stop by the same name: Hotel de Ville in Paris’s 1st arrondissement.