Sylwester 'Kris' Braun (Jan. 1, 1909–Feb. 2, 1996) a geodesist by profession, worked at the Warsaw Bureau of City Planning before WWII. In the fall of 1939, during the Polish-German War, he photographed bombed Warsaw and later scenes from the occupied city. During the Warsaw Uprising 1944 he served as field photographer for AK's (Home Army) Bureau of Information and Propaganda (BIP).
During the 63 days of the Uprising, using a small standard Leica camera, Braun took over 3,000 photographs–half of which have survived the war. Before leaving Warsaw on October 6, he buried the negatives in glass jars inside a cellar. After escaping from a trainload transport of Polish POWs near the Dutch border, he returned to Warsaw in January 1945 to recover the hidden negatives. He soon left Poland for Sweden, and in 1964 he emigrated to the United States, where he settled in Los Angeles.
Braun's photographs have been exhibited in Russia, Sweden, Yugoslavia, the United States, and Canada. However, his first exhibit in Poland took place in 1979, followed by the publication of the Reportaże z Powstania Warszawskiego (Warsaw Uprising Reportages) photo album in 1983. Before his death, Braun donated all of his Warsaw Uprising negatives to the Warsaw Historical Museum.
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The Field Army Reporter
During the first days of the Uprising, I volunteered for the Bureau of Information and Propaganda (BIP), then located on Moniuszko Street.
There I met friends from the 'Wolves' battalion, to which I belonged. Thanks to my photographing abilities, I was delegated to Czolowka Filmowa—a documentary film and photo unit—as a field army reporter with the alias 'Kris.' I started at once. I covered my first piece. As my darkroom was in my house, I immediately began developing the film, making enlargements for the BIP as fast as possible. At that time, we still had electricity and stored water in my bathtub. We did not have a problem getting the film either. Thanks to my old contacts, all the necessary materials were available for me.
'Kania' (Tadeusz Zenczykowski) was my direct boss. During a conversation with him, I reserved my right of ownership to all negatives, which 'Kania' agreed to. Instead of negatives, I pledged to deliver press prints, sized 13 x 18 cm [5.1 x 7.1 in], which I have been doing instantly with lots of enthusiasm. My entire collaboration with 'Kania' was excellent.
'Kania' knew my special technique. Every picture I took was overexposed at least two times, so as to get the details in the shadows, and then I developed them in equalizing and fine-grained developers. That was why I didn’t give my film to the central darkroom—it could destroy the technical value of the photos.
I was never given any orders. All of Warsaw was my operating area. I didn’t know what the situation was in every division, but I tried to be everywhere I could, wherever something was happening—on the barricade and at the resource base, with the girls and the boys, in free Warsaw. While covering the city, I never asked anyone for names, aliases, or functions. At that time, I thought that keeping any written records was unimportant. I relied on my memory. I didn’t do to Czolowka Filmowa too often as it changed quarters often.
I made many copies of the pictures and distributed them to soldiers. Seeing the happiness on their faces made me feel satisfied.
After some time, A Week in Illustrations started to be published and posted in the gateways of buildings. About 80 percent of one issue was my photos, signed with different aliases. I didn’t clarify this. At that time, it wasn’t important who had been taking the pictures. It was significant that the insurgents had an overview of the military actions, the city, the brotherhood, spontaneous aid from civilians—a real view of Powisle.
When the power station stopped working, the lights—of course—were turned off as well. It was harder and harder to get water. I couldn’t make any enlargements. As long as I could, I developed film using my intuition. Once, during such a developing process, the film coiled. I knew that I had to straighten it out instantly, otherwise it would be lost. I took off my boots. I put the developing dish on the floor, put my foot into the developer, and passed the film under my foot. In this way, I managed to save the film (counting up to five minutes).
During the second part of the Uprising, I had neither a darkroom nor a house, so I collected all the undeveloped film into a metal box. No one expected copies from me, but I was still taking photos. The city was in ruins, but as long as the fight went on, my mission persisted.
Translated by Wojciech Jan Kaczmarek