Valery Ginzburg was born in central Moscow in 1925, in a Jewish family that belonged to the Soviet intelligentsia. A century before his birth, the old house in which the family resided had been the site of the first public reading of Alexander Pushkin's tragedy Boris Godunov.
Valery's father, Aron, was an economist, while his mother, Feiga, worked at a conservatory. His older brother, Alexander Ginzburg, who would later adopt the pseudonym "Alexander Galich", would go on to become a famous poet, playwright, singer-songwriter, and dissident.
At the time of the Nazi invasion of the USSR in late June 1941, Valery had just completed school. Aged 16, he volunteered to join the People's Militia. The militiamen had to work in terrible conditions, and, unsurprisingly, Ginzburg had his feet frostbitten while digging trenches. Facing the risk of gangrene, he was sent home to Moscow. Afterward, he and his parents were evacuated to Tashkent.
Being an artistic person by nature, Valery Ginzburg spent much of his time at the Central Film Studio in Tashkent. He got lucky: The cameraman Alexander Gintsburg took him on as his assistant. In 1943, the movie Two Soldiers was being filmed at that studio. This project influenced Valery's choice of profession. Therefore, upon his return to Moscow that same year (1943), Ginzburg began to study at the Faculty of Camera Operators of the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK).
After a year of study, a group of VGIK students, with Ginzburg among them, was sent to the Babelsberg Film Studio. By that time, Nazi Germany was all but defeated. However, this studio was the center of the film industry of the Third Reich. It was there that the propaganda materials supervised by Goebbels, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, were stored. Under the direction of Prof. Yevsei Goldovsky, the Soviet students from the Faculty of Camera Operators were required to select high-quality film equipment and transport it to the USSR.
Then, in 1944, Captain Valery Ginzburg joined the Red Army units advancing through Poland toward Berlin. He kept filming throughout this time. Thanks to Ginzburg, we can watch unique footage of the ruined Berlin, see the faces of its inhabitants, and feel the atmosphere of those days.
After the end of the war, Valery returned to Moscow and resumed his studies at the VGIK, graduating from it in 1949. He then began to work at the Gorky Film Studio, which would be his professional home for the next 50 years of his life. Ginzburg filmed many renowned Soviet movies, becoming an acclaimed cameraman. In the mid-1960s, he began a fruitful collaboration with the writer and director Vasily Shukshin. In 1964, they made the movie There Is Such a Lad, which was based on numerous short stories by Shukshin, and several others.
In the 1960s, Ginzburg began to teach camera work at the VGIK, but he was fired in 1976. This was caused by the emigration of his older brother, Alexander Galich,who had left the USSR for Paris, having been hounded by the Soviet authorities.
In 1967, Valery Ginzburg collaborated with the director Alexander Askoldov on the film Commissar, which was based on Vasily Grossman's short story "In the Town of Berdichev" (1934). Askoldov's parents had fallen victim to the Great Purge, and he was taken in by a Jewish family, who would later be killed in Babi Yar. As a tribute to them, Askoldov chose to depict the future of the protagonists in the film: They would perish in the Holocaust. This was one of the few Soviet movies to touch directly on the subject of the Holocaust. The film was confiscated, and Askoldov, who used to be a loyal functionary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, was banned from directing further films, and eventually expelled from the country altogether. Only 20 years later, during Gorbachev's perestroika period, was Commissar released to the public. The film won international acclaim and numerous awards. In 1988, Valery Ginzburg received the Soviet Nika Award for his camera work in this film. Ginzburg's complete filmography includes 27 titles.
Valery Ginzburg died in Moscow in 1998, having worked at the Maxim Gorky Film Studio until the very end.
In May-September 2020, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow held an exhibition of works by Ilya Arons and Valery Ginzburg titled Berlin Unknown, May 1945.