Heroes without a single picture

Inside the Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin you can see a display (like an open-air museum) of WWII military vehicles. Amongst them, the famous Katyusha rocket launcher, a series of guns, trucks, tanks and even a Lavochkin La-7 fighter plane and the sail of Soviet submarine S-13.

What struck me most are not the vehicles themselves, but rather the “photo mosaics” in the kremlin wall arcs behind them. From a distance they look like blurry pictures of significant war events (like this T-34 tank in Berlin), or an artist rendition of such an image.

When you walk closer, though, you notice that they are actually composed of pictures of soldiers (and officers) of the Red Army who lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War.

Tank Mosaic-2

This is already significant, as it forces you to come “face to face” with the people who lost their lives in the war. It humanizes the sterile numbers you read in books about how many people died in this or that battle. It forces you to look them in the eyes, imagine what life they had lead to that moment, what life they could have lived afterwards, but never did. It strongly reminded me of a Aslan Gaisumov phrase I wrote about in a previous post, about the human suffering in war.

What struck me the most (maybe because I am a photographer, I don’t know) is that fact that these mosaics are almost entirely made of photographs. And I say “almost” because for some of these people there is no photograph, but a simple, almost crude, painting of their liking, instead.

Tank Mosaic-3

It really hit me that these people died without even leaving a photographic image of themselves behind. They died without having ever had a picture of them taken. They died without a photographic memories they families could keep and look at when thinking about them.

It is probably hard to imagine, especially for the younger people who belong to the selfie generation that no picture exists or ever existed of grown man who had documents (can you imagine documents without a photograph nowadays?) and even served in the military.


I also started thinking about the fact that these were actually not the exceptions, but rather the majority of the over 26.5 million Soviet people who died in WWII. More than half that number is the civilian population that perished due to military activities (like bombing) or war related famine and diseases. Most of them were farmers, factory workers, poor people who were the most vulnerable having no way to escape and most likely most of them had never had a picture taken, either. And I wonder how many of them would have had that chance, later on in life, had the war not senselessly destroyed their lives. I wonder how many of them would have achieved great or small things, how many of them could have contributed to the betterment of our world or just brought some happiness to a fellow human being, especially considering how many dark years the Soviet people still had to endure in the years following the war.

Would you like to discover the Russia that foreigners rarely, if ever, get to see, with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking guide (me and my wife) showing you the sights and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!

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