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German Jewish Photographer Gerda Taro, Documented Spanish Civil War, is Killed in Battle, 1937

On This Day in Jewish History: July 26, 1937

On This Day, German Jewish Photographer, Gerda Taro, Dies at 26. Born Gerta Pahorylle on August 1, 1910 into a middle class Jewish family in Stuttgart, Germany, Taro was a student at Queen Charlotte High School followed by a boarding school in Lausanne, Switzerland and business school shortly thereafter. Taro’s family moved to Leipzig in 1929. Steadfast in her opposition to the National Socialist German Workers Party, she pursued left-leaning politics. Taro was arrested in 1933 shortly after the Nazis took power for handing out anti-fascist propaganda which opposed National Socialist policies. It wasn’t long before Taro’s family was forced to separate, exit Germany, and head to different destinations. Taro was just 23 at the time and bound for Paris. Her parents tried to emigrate to British Mandated-Palestine while her brothers traveled to England. Never again would Taro see any of her family.

After moving to Paris in 1934, Taro met Endre Friedmann, a Hungarian Jewish photojournalist. She would go on to learn the craft and serve as his personal assistant. As the story goes, the two fell in love, and developed a deep romance. Taro soon began working as a picture editor for Alliance Photo. Two years after meeting Friedmann she attained the first photojournalist credential of her career. It was then that she and Friedmann laid out a plan where he declared himself the agent for the photographer Robert Capa, a name that the couple had created. Both Taro and Friedmann would go on to take news photographs attributing the credit to Robert Capa upon each sale. They invented the name as a safety mechanism to weaponize themselves against the rising tide of intolerance throughout Europe. The “Capa” served as Friedmann’s nickname on the streets of Budapest. While the pseudonym didn’t remain private, Capa kept the name for professional purposes and Taro assumed the name “Gerda Taro” for Tarö Okamoto and Greta Garbo, the Japanese artist and Swedish actress, respectively.

Taro spent time in Barcelona following the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. She, along with Capa and David Seymour, collectively covered the fighting in Northeast Aragon as well as Córdoba’s southern province. Publishing under Robert Capa, the couple was successful, getting their photos issued in such publications as Zürcher Illutrierte and Vu.

While Taro refused Friedmann’s hand in marriage, she formed public friendships with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, the main anti-fascist intellectuals of the period who served as mainstays on the side of the Spanish Republic. She entered the world of commercial photography under the label Photo Taro following her contract with the communist French newspaper fr:Ce Soiree.

Her photographs covering the bombing of Valencia has come to represent some of her most famous work. On July 25, 1937, while covering the Battle of Brunete, where the retreat of the Republican army took place, Taro jumped onto the foot board connected to General Walter’s vehicle which was used to transport wounded soldiers. General Walter’s vehicle was hit when a Republic army tank exploded on the side of the car, leaving Taro in critical condition. She succumbed to her wounds the next day. She was just 26.

Some have disputed this account of Taro’s death, like Robin Stummer, the British journalist who cited WIlly Brandt in a piece for the New Statesman, who believed that she had become a target of Stalin’s purge of Socialists and Communists within Spain that had broken rank with Moscow. While Stummer failed to provide further evidence for his theory, what remains true is Taro’s legacy as a firm anti-fascist figure of Europe. On August 1st, 1927 The French Communist Party funded a “grand funeral” in Paris which brought tens of thousands of men and women into the streets. She was buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The French Communist Party also commissioned Alberto Giacometti to construct a gravesite monument.

The first full exhibition of Taro’s work in the United States took place at the International Center of Photography in 2007. In fact, much of Robert Capa’s early work was done by Taro, a credit that has sustained both Capo’s legacy while serving to enhance her own.


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