Gerda Taro 80: Killed on Assignment

Gerda Taro and Robert Capa laugh over a drink in 1936. Eighty years ago today, on July 26, 1937, Taro was killed covering the Spanish Civil War. Credit: © Fred Stein Archive/Getty Images


Eighty years ago today, German photographer Gerda Taro was killed covering the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Taro, a close friend and colleague of famed photographer Robert Capa, was the first woman war correspondent killed on assignment. She died during the Battle of Brunete on July 26, 1937, just a few days before her 27th birthday.

Taro was born Gerta Pohorylle on Aug. 1, 1910, into a Polish-Jewishfamily in Stuttgart, Germany. In 1933, she fled Germany to escape the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, who had recently come to power with Adolf Hitler. Pohorylle settled in Paris, France, where she befriended Capa, himself a Jewish immigrant who had fled persecution in Hungary. Capa, then known as André Friedmann, had just begun his career as a news photographer. He taught Pohorylle all he knew, and the two soon became a team covering assignments together. Soon after they began collaborating, they changed their names to increase their individual marketability.

In 1936, Taro and Capa went to Spain to cover the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The pair traveled with the government’s liberal Republican forces (they were fighting against fascist Nationalist rebels), and they covered numerous battles. Often working at or near the front lines, Taro and Capa were in near-constant danger. Taro became known for her daring behavior, often risking her life for a good photograph. She believed passionately in the fight against fascism; she felt that meaningful photographs would gain more worldwide support for the Spanish Republican cause.

In July 1937, Capa returned to Paris to develop and sell their photographs. At the same time, Republican and Nationalist forces were engaged in a bloody battle for the town of Brunete just west of Madrid, the Spanish capital. Taro, working with Canadian photographer Ted Allan while Capa was away, took numerous photos during the fighting at Brunete. On July 25, she and Allan jumped on the running boards of a car carrying wounded soldiers away from the front. The car collided with an out-of-control Republican tank, and both Taro and Allan were severely injured. Allan survived his wounds, but Taro died the next morning.

Thousands of people attended Taro’s funeral in Paris, including a distraught and grief-stricken Robert Capa. Taro was eulogized in the press, and she became a heroine of liberal causes in both France and Spain. World events soon eclipsed Taro’s fame, however, as the fascist Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War in April 1939—with much help from Nazi Germany, a nation whose attack on Poland started World War II a few months later. Capa’s fame greatly increased during World War II as he photographed the fighting in China and then in North Africa and Europe. Capa too was killed on assignment while covering the Indochina War in 1954.

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