World War II Arthur Bondar Collection

In liberated France: Paris and Marseille

Sam Jaffe / The US Army / 62 photos

In liberated France: Paris and Marseille

In 2019 I bought negatives of an American photographer who took photographs during the Second World War at an online auction in the US.  The seller had bought them at a yard sale at one of the houses in New York. Along with the negatives were prints, a portrait of the photographer, a mailing envelope, and even the photographer's stamp. All of these items were mixed together in the dust and looked like a bag of rubbish, surprisingly quite well preserved for their time. After a bit of cleaning of all the stuff, it was possible to find out the name and destiny of the photographer. It turned out to be an American photographer Sam (Samuel) Jaffe.

During World War II, Sam Jaffe served in Company A of the Army’s 3217th Signal Service Battalion, first assigned to Supreme Allied Headquarters in London and later to Paris. It was in the liberated French capital that Sam Jaffe shot Victory Day (V-Day) on 8 May 1945. His photographs captured celebrating citizens in the streets of the city, French and Allied flags flying, and American planes flying over the Arc de Triomphe.

In France, the photographer made many photographs on black-and-white 35 mm film with an unknown camera, which made a square format of the frames. Some of the negatives, due to careless developing or improper storage conditions, have been damaged. But perhaps this damage adds even more realism to these historic images.

In the second half of the summer of 1945, Sam Jaffe was travelling to the south of France, to Marseille, with an army convoy. On the road, he took portraits of his friends and fellow Americans in military tents and at lunch in the camp. He also captured a column of freed French prisoners of war (POW) walking along the edge of the road towards home.

In Marseille, Sam Jaffe photographed the peaceful life that is just beginning. He shot civilians and soldiers on the streets of the liberated city, arriving American cargo vessels in the harbour, the Jewish community and the first synagogue services, the central railway station of Saint-Charles and the monumental staircase and much more. The photographer did not try to stage the images, but shot a lot of simple everyday scenes, trying to feel the pulse of the new life.

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Valery Faminsky / The Soviet Army / 62 photos