The last remaining veterans of World War II are scattered across the world, from mainland Europe to North America and Asia. But in the new book Veterans, published this May by Princeton Architectural Press, the photographer Sasha Maslov has compiled the photographs and stories of 53 men and women who actively participated in the war in a single place.
Maslov, who was born in the Ukraine and moved to New York eight years ago, traveled to 20 different countries across five years in order to document the stories of these elderly veterans, many of whom have passed away in the time since they sat for their portraits. Their testimony is a reminder of one of the most devastating wars in human history.
The photographs that accompany transcriptions of each person’s individual story are striking portraits of the veterans in their present-day home. Some stand stalwart in a more formal room of their house–a dining room, or living room–while others lounge in their kitchen or pose in their office. The decor of the room in which they are photographed often seems out of another time. “The environments can tell as much of a story about them as their portraits,” Maslov says. “Each environment has a distinct cultural voice.”
The book doesn’t just feature traditional combat veterans. The man on the book’s cover, Jean-Jacques Auduc, was a member of the French resistance. Maslov says he told a story about how he was patrolling the areas around his hometown on a bicycle and he saw the Germans placing wooden airplanes on an airfield in order to fool the British and Americans. Auduc then reported it to his British contact, and the British dropped wooden bombs on the airfield in order to let the Germans know they were aware of their tricks. In his portrait, he stands, chin up, in his military uniform, his figure framed by bright orange curtains. A grandfather clock sits sentry in the corner.
While Auduc was part of the resistance, other people featured in the book were medics, engineers, guards, or Holocaust survivors. Maslov wanted to capture these stories for the future–and as part of that mission, not all of his subjects were on the side of the Allies, either. One Austrian man he photographed, Herbert Killian, fought for the Nazis and was captured by American troops as a prisoner of war. After the war, Killian found his way to Germany but was arrested for “hooliganism” after an altercation with some schoolboys who had fathers in high places and shipped off to Siberia, where he served a decade-long sentence. In Maslov’s photo, he poses in a burgundy jacket in front of an old-world painted portrait. A cage with a bird flanks his other side.
In order to find the participants, Maslov relied on his personal network, then went through veterans’ organizations and assisted living facilities around the world, which connected him to veterans who were interested in talking to him.
Ultimately, he hopes people read the stories, look at the photographs, and come to their own conclusions about the human toll of war–even decades after the last bullet has been fired. “I would hope that people would learn what kind of a great deal of tragedy the world can bring,” he says. “And how quickly we get into a conflict and how long and painful it is to forget it.”