The tragedy of Warsaw 1939 seen by Julien Bryan

Julien Bryan was an American photographer, documentarian and filmmaker, known for his documentary “Siege”, depicting the siege of Warsaw in September 1939. Bryan was the only foreign journalist accredited in Warsaw at that time. He began his private war with the German machinery of propaganda. 

Bryan was in Warsaw between 7 and 21 September 1939. He arrived in Warsaw with his Leica still camera, Bell and Howell movie camera and 6000 feet of film.

The tragedy of the Polish capital has been shown to the world audience in the movie ‘The Siege” in 1940. Bryan received for this picture Academy Award nomination for an Oscar in the category of short documentary film.

Bryan managed to take hundreds of pictures documenting the Siege of Warsaw and the terror bombing of the city by the Germans. We would like to present you two of them.

A boy on the rubble of a building

Nine-year-old Ryszard Pajewski sits on the rubble of a house on the corner of Blaszana and Olszowa streets in Warsaw, which had been shelled by the German aeroplanes.

Kazimiera Mika with her sister’s body

Ten-year-old Kazimiera Mika is crying over her older sister Anna’s dead body. Anna had been digging potatoes with six other women,  when the German planes appeared overhead and shot at them. Two of the seven women were killed. This photo appeared in Life magazine and was seen around the world, becoming a symbol of Warsaw under siege.

Bryan said among the others: “Poles, if the Spartans had revived and saw your heroism, this brave and courageous nation would have bow their heads down in front of you”.

In 1958 Bryan revisited Poland and published hundreds of his own pictures in Express Wieczorny asking: “Do you recognise yourself, your relatives, your house and street?” This is how he found the heroes of his film from besieged Warsaw in 1939. He described his experiences in a new book “Warsaw: 1939 siege, 1959 Warsaw Revisited” published in 1959 in Poland.

Nel Badowska

Pictures: British Poles at the WW2 Museum in Gdańsk