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Soviet Life In The 1950s, As Never Seen Before

A scene from the March 9, 1953 funeral of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, from the Archive of Martin Manhoff, a U.S. Army Major who took rare color photos of life in the U.S.S.R in the early 1950's.

WASHINGTON - RFE/RL has published never-before-seen color images of life in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, from a trove of original video and photographs that was recently discovered in cardboard boxes in a former auto body shop in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.


Part One: Stalin's Funeral

Part Two: City Life

Part Three: On The Road

Part Four: Spy Or Artist?

The archive belonged to U.S. Army Major Martin Manhoff, who spent more than two years in the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, serving as assistant army attaché at the U.S. embassy. From his vantage point at the embassy, then located just off Moscow’s Red Square, he filmed what is thought to be the only independent footage of Stalin’s funeral procession, providing an unfiltered view of the event not conveyed in official Soviet reels.

Douglas Smith, the award-winning historian and author of five books on Russia who discovered the Manhoff Archive, has said that the photos have “a human quality that is missing from any other depiction” of Soviet life at the time.

This first installment of the Manhoff Archive, released by RFE/RL in English and Russian and featuring the Stalin funeral procession video, has been viewed more than 2 million times on Russian-language platforms and over 250,000 times in English, and has been shared 20,000 times on Facebook in both languages.

In total, RFE/RL is publishing more than 120 photos and videos from the Manhoff Archive, in a four-part series of multimedia graphics. Part two of the series, which will be published on March 20, will feature Manhoff’s collection of photos of city life in the Soviet Union of the 1950’s. Part three, “On The Road,” to be issued on April 3, is a selection of his photos taken during his travels outside Moscow. On April 10, the final installment, “Spy or Artist,” will focus on the discovery of the archive and the man himself.