Tag Archives: World War II

Is Robert Capa’s Falling soldier a fake?

Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (commonly known as The Falling Soldier) was first published in the September issue of the French Vu magazine in 1936. It subsequently became a symbol of the Spanish Civil War.

Robert Capa initially said in 1937 that he took the picture when he was trapped in the trenches with a Republican soldier. The impatient soldier decided to jump out of cover, and Capa followed suit and upon capturing the death of the soldier he jumped back to cover. In a 1947 radio interview, however, he changed his story slightly. He then said that he was stuck in the trenches with about 20 soldiers, and on a whim he held up his camera to take a blind shot. Despite the two contradictory accounts, the authenticity of the picture wasn’t doubted until the 1970’s (outside of Spain, anyway).

But in 1975 an Australian reporter claimed that the photograph was staged. Capa’s biographer disputed these claims, and referred the journalist to the opinion of certain forensic experts who thought the soldier had indeed been shot. Furthermore, a historian claimed to have identified the soldier in the picture; it was a Frederico Borrell Garcia. However, the debate surrounding the photograph didn’t end there.

A documentary from 2007 concluded that the picture was taken in the morning, when there was supposed to be no fighting at all. In 2009 a Spanish newspaper claimed that it wasn’t even in Cerro Muriano. Lastly, another documentary from 2013 suggested that the photograph was actually taken by Gerda Taro, Capa’s professional partner.

So in summation, some details regarding The Falling Soldier are unclear. However, some think that that may be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. As Sebastiaan Faber (a historian specializing in the Spanish Civil War) wrote:

“It’s time to ask the central question: What if The Falling Soldier were staged? Would the knowledge that the man depicted in this image did not die at the moment the photo was taken change the way we think about Spain, the Civil War, or twentieth-century history? The answer is that it wouldn’t. Capa did not record a news event at Espejo. What made his image so powerful was not that it pictured a history-changing, unique incident—the moon landing or the murder of a president or the conquest of Teruel. We see an unknown man dying at an unknown location in Spain, and we know, as did Capa’s first viewers, that hundreds of Spanish men and women were dying in this way every day.”

(via)

The legend of the paperclip

Why did Norwegians wear paperclips during World War II? Did it really become a symbol of resistance because of a misconception?

A blog post on Today I found out delves into the historic significance of paperclips in Norway. During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded Norway in order to make the transport of Swedish steel easier. The royal family and government fled to London, and the country was governed by the puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling.

According to the Today I found out article, students of the University of Oslo found an unorthodox way of expressing their hatred of the occupying forces: they started wearing paperclips, paperclip bracelets and paperclip jewellery. Symbols related to the royal family and state had already been banned, and they wanted a clever way of displaying their rejection of Nazi ideas. According to the article, the paperclip was chosen because (in addition to binding things together and signifying unity) it was invented by Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian inventor and patent clerk.

However, the paperclip wasn’t invented by Vaaler. In addition, it’s fairly possible that this misconception had nothing to do with why the students chose the paperclip as their symbol of non-violent resistance.

While Vaaler did indeed file a patent for a certain paperclip design in 1899 (in Germany) and then in 1901 (in the United States); it was never manufactured. This is because there was already a more functional design already being mass produced in Europe.

Despite this, a number of encyclopaedias wrongly identify Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, and there have been monuments and stamps created in his honour (depicting a design Vaaler had nothing to do with). The misconception seems to originate from the 1920’s, when Norwegian patent agent Harald Foss identified Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, not noticing that he patented a different paperclip design.

However, even though the legend of Vaaler inventing the paperclip originates from the 1920’s, it didn’t become well-known until the 1950’s. Norwegian encyclopaedias from the 1950’s make no mention of the paperclip being chosen because it was invented by Vaaler, and one from 1974 suggests that the idea of the paperclip symbolizing resistance originated from France. Therefore, the assertion of Today I found out is uncertain at best.

Just to illustrate how quickly legends like this begin to mutate: in 1998, high school students from Tennessee decided to collect paperclips in order to commemorate murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. During this campaign, a couple more misconceptions were born. One site referencing the campaign states that “Norwegians wore them on their clothes to show support for Jews during World War II”, while another site wrote that the “symbol of resistance originally honored Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian Jew who invented the paper clip”.

As for who actually invented the paperclip; while there are plenty of claimants, no one is quite sure. In the 1870’s, the British Gem Manufacturing Company has already mass produced them. While it’s uncertain whether these clips were similar to the ones we use today, an advertisement from 1894 depicts one nearly identical to today’s paperclips.

Photo: flickr.com/TRIUMF Lab