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Of Tablecloths and Soviet Relics: A Study of the Banner of Victory (Znamia Pobedy)


The Second World War produced many iconic photographs.  Among these were two famous photographs of flag-raisings.  Americans are most familiar with Joe Rosenthal’s photo of United States Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Mount Sarabachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.  In the Soviet Union and modern Russia, the best known flag-raising photo from the war is Evgennyi Khaldei’s photo of Soviet soldiers raising the red banner with the hammer, sickle and star over the Reichstag in Berlin.  When this photo is published it is usually labeled in Russian as “Znamia Pobedy nad Reikhstagom”, or “Banner of Victory over the Reichstag”.  It is not only used to illustrate the end of the war, but has also become a powerful symbol of the Soviet victory over Fascist Germany.  In some written accounts about the photograph it is linked to the “Znamia Pobedy”, or Victory Banner – a historical flag, museum artifact, and Soviet relic that is still treasured in post-Soviet Russia.  This banner (and reproductions of it) have become a regular feature of the Victory Day parades held annually on May 9 since the end of the war.  Some discussions of the Znamia Pobedy suggest that the flag in Khaldei’s photo and the flag in the museum are one in the same.  Others, however, suggest that these are two different flags and that they are just a few of the many red banners raised over the Reichstag building during the final battle for Berlin.  Further confusing the issue, the term “Znamia Pobedy” also refers to replicas of the museum artifact flag that are used on Victory Day.   In early post-Soviet Russia a proposal was made to change the design of the Victory Banner to eliminate Soviet symbolism.  However, changing a relic is not easy to do, so today the Znamia Pobedy retains its hammer, sickle, and star.  This paper will examine the many aspects of the Victory Banner including the Khaldei photo, the museum relic, and the role of the banner in Russia and elsewhere today.

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