Henri Cartier-Bresson in Dessau

On the outbreak of World War II, Henri Cartier-Bresson joined the French Army as a corporal in the Film and Photography unit. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in 1940 during the Battle of France and spent 35 months subjected to forced labour in prisoner-of-war camps until, after several failed attempts, he escaped in 1943. He went on to join the underground French photographic unit that recorded the German occupation and retreat. In 1945 he was present at a transit camp in Dessau, Germany, located between the American and Soviet zones, which helped refugees, political prisoners and displaced people.

This astonishing photograph captures the moment at which a Gestapo informer trying to hide in the crowd is recognised by a woman she has betrayed. In the foreground an interrogator sits at a writing desk in the courtyard of the transit camp. The accused woman stands in front of him with her head lowered in shame. Recognising her denouncer, a woman rushes from the crowd, hitting the accused whilst a prisoner in ‘striped pyjamas’ watches defiantly in the background. The scene also features in Cartier-Bresson’s documentary Le Retour (The Return) that focuses on the repatriation of prisoners of war and detainees.

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