Postcards of Grief

Photograph/Fridtjof Nansen; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Fridtjof Nansen; Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

This photograph of two brothers was a part of a set of 9–10 picture postcards published by Rotogravure SA, a Swiss printing press and showed the consequences of the Russian famine of 1921. Photographed by Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer and a humanitarian, the rotogravure photo postcards were meant to raise funds for famine-stricken Russians. The famine, which lasted for a year, was supposed to have killed over 10 million people. Those who were most affected by this disaster, were the people in the Volga-Ural region of Bolshevik Russia. The starvation victims included young children, many of whom had been orphaned during World War I.

In the picture even while one brother feeds the other, both the children were in their fatal stages of starvation. Written on the front of the postcard is—“Famine In Russia. III. TWO STAGES OF FAMINE: The children were down to skin and bones, with swollen stomachs (through eating, grass, peels, worms, dirt). These children cannot be saved, it is too late. In order to save them, they had to be fed before this degree of exhaustion.”

In 1922, when Fridtjof learned that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, he donated the prize money to international relief efforts. Many publications later misprinted this photograph stating that the picture had been taken in 1932–33 during the second Famine in Soviet Ukraine. In a few publications, the picture was also titled as Brothers in Distress.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of Better Photography.

Tags: November 2011, story behind the photograph, Russian famine of 1921, Rotogravure SA, Fridtjof Nansen, Brothers in Distress