World War II Arthur Bondar Collection

Olga Ignatovich: a rare view at war through the lens of the Soviet female photographer

Olga Ignatovich / The Soviet Army / 134 photos

Olga Ignatovich: a rare view at war through the lens of the Soviet female photographer

The war archive of Olga Ignatovich, one of the few Soviet women photographers who photographed the Second World War (the Great Patriotic War), was thought to be lost forever, until recently. It was found in a completely disarranged state and stored in a shoebox. Some of the negatives were damaged by fungus and mould. So it was only a matter of time before they disappeared. This truly unique discovery allows not only to see Olga Ignatovich's photographic talent much more widely, but also to identify the true authorship of many pictures, which during the post-war years was assigned to Boris Ignatovich (her brother).

During the Second World War, there were only seven female photojournalists on the Soviet side. War, like photography itself, was considered to be a man's job. Women in the war had to endure enormous physical and psychological stresses. However, women's view of the war was completely different, more human and emotional.

If we talk about Olga Ignatovich's biography, her surname is most often associated with the legacy of Boris Ignatovich, a classic of Soviet photography. Perhaps that is why Olga's own work was always in the shadow of her "big" brother.

Olga Vsevolodovna Ignatovich was born in 1905, according to some sources in Slutsk (Belarus), according to others in Lodz (Poland). She was the younger sister of the famous Soviet photojournalist and explorer of the visual language of photography Boris Vsevolodovich Ignatovich. Together with her brother she worked for the newspaper "Bednota" and the magazine "Narpit", and from the mid-1930s she worked for the newspaper "Vechernyaya Moskva". Olga was a member of the "Ignatovich Brigade" in Soyuzphoto. Boris also encouraged his other two sisters to take up photography, but only Olga showed outstanding talent.

According to the archival documentation, Olga enlisted to the Soviet army in November 1941. From the first months of the war she worked as a photo correspondent for the Soviet frontline newspaper "Boevoye Znamya" of the 30th Army, which was transformed in April 1943 into the 10th Guards Army (as part of the Kalinin Front). At the end of 1943 Olga Vsevolodovna was assigned to the editorial staff of the newspaper "For the Honour of the Motherland" of the newly formed 1st Ukrainian Front. Being a photo correspondent of this newspaper, Olga Ignatovich shot the last two years of the war.

Among the significant photographic works of Olga Ignatovich are: a series of photographs from the liberated Rzhev, where she entered with the 30th Army (3 March 1943), a series of photographs of aviators on the Kalinin front (1942), the advance of the Red Army to the West under the command of Marshals Zhukov and Konev (1944-45). A distinct page in the photographic heritage of Olga Ignatovich is her special assignment to photograph the German death camps Majdanek (1944) and Auschwitz (1945) liberated by the Red Army. The authorship of the world-famous shots "Liberation of Auschwitz" was attributed to Boris Ignatovich during all these years. The photographs taken by Olga Ignatovich in the Auschwitz death camp became the basis for awarding her the Order of the Red Star. The pictures she took in the concentration camps were included in the materials of the Nuremberg Trials.

But if we know quite a lot about Olga Ignatovich's war career, there is very few data about her post-war life. After demobilisation, Olga Ignatovich worked for Sovinformburo, and from 1961 she continued to work for the Novosti Press Agency. From the late 1960s she was an employee of the publishing house "Soviet Artist".

There is also no data about last years of her life, the exact date of her death and even the place of her burial. Only a short record - Olga Vsevolodovna Ignatovich died in 1984 and is buried in Moscow. The burial place with a white marble tombstone was found in Khimki cemetery in Moscow. On tombstone was engraved in gold letters her name and exact birth - death dates, which were also unknown until today: 24 July 1905 - 21 March 1984.

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