Chim: David Seymour's Humanist Photography
National Gallery of Art, home page
Image: David Seymour (Chim), The Ernst Thaelmann Brigade, 1936, gelatin silver print, printed 1982 David Seymour (Chim)
The Ernst Thaelmann Brigade, 1936
gelatin silver print, printed 1982
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Ben Shneiderman
© David Seymour Estate/Magnum Photos

Spanish Civil War

The Ernst Thaelmann Brigade

More than 30,000 foreign volunteers—chiefly French, German, Italian, and American—rallied to take up arms on the Republic's behalf. The foreign units were eventually organized into five international brigades, the first army of its kind in modern history. This photograph depicts the Ernst Thaelmann Battalion, a German unit named for a leading communist who had been imprisoned by the Nazis. It quickly gained a reputation for being one of the bravest and best-trained units in the international brigades.

Like the photograph of the Saint Cloud peace rally, this image highlights Chim's ability to encapsulate narrative in a single frame. The fresh-faced soldier in the center conveys the spirit of idealism and determination that suffused the international volunteers, while the line of identically posed and uniformed soldiers ranged behind him suggests the vast numbers of like-minded fighters. The battalion's flag, meanwhile, featuring a hammer and sickle and the name of the unit, plainly identifies the scene, functioning like an internal caption.