I’m starting a new blog series called “Stories Behind the Images.” I’ll share select images from the archives and reveal details from its creation.
This is Alois Schweda, a man I met in the early 1990s when this portrait was made to accompany a feature story I did about him for the Times-Journal newspaper.
His daughter had called me, concerned about his safety, after his home was shot up with bullets by some of his neighbors, presumably as a form of intimidation. You see, the Cartersville community is right on the Alabama/Georgia state line and a popular spot for suspected drug dealers, at least at that time.
Mr. Schweda shared his story of how he was conscripted into the Nazi infantry after his country, Czechoslovakia, was forced to surrender before the war. He reluctantly marched into Poland (invaded on 1 September 1939).
He told harrowing stories of many near-death experiences, including the battle of Stalingrad in 1942, the largest confrontation of World War II, in which they fought the Soviet Union for control of what’s now called Volgograd in Southern Russia. Marked by fierce close quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians in air raids, it was the largest (nearly 2.2 million personnel) and bloodiest (1.8–2 million killed, wounded or captured) battle in the history of warfare.
Can you imagine surviving all of that just to come to America and have to endure thugs shooting up your house because you’re an old man they don’t want to squeal on their criminality?
I used natural light for this portrait, positioning him with the wall of his kitchen directly behind him and two windows (full of bullet holes) to either side of him. This created a sense of depth and accentuated the wrinkles on his face, which reflect a lifetime of suffering through the most horrific events of the 20th Century.
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