About the Nazi Invasion of Poland, 1939
This digital collection presents 90 photographs taken by Harrison Forman at the outbreak of World War II in Poland. The photographic collection is supplemented by a selection of newspaper clippings and an article “Filming the Blitzkrieg,” published by Forman in Travel magazine in December 1939. The photographs, documenting the Nazi invasion of Poland in September of 1939, were discovered in the American Geographical Society Library at the UWM Libraries. The images are part of the extensive Harrison Forman Collection that was donated to the American Geographical Society Library in 1987.
Harrison Forman (1904-1978), a Wisconsin native, was an adventurous journalist, photographer, and explorer. He worked as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, London Times and NBC, and undertook several expeditions to northern Tibet and China in the 1930s. UWM Libraries created several digital collections featuring his images of Afghanistan, Tibet, and China. The digital collections are available at: https://collections.lib.uwm.edu
While conducting research on the Tibetan images, UWM librarians came across references to Forman’s photographs of World War II in Poland in his 1938-1939 scrapbook. Locating the images, however, was not easy since Forman collection consists of over 98,000 images, mostly film negatives and slides. In addition, Forman’s film negatives of the Warsaw bombing were accidentally misfiled by the company that appraised his collection before it came to the Libraries.
Eventually about 90 unique images documenting the beginning of World War II in Poland were identified in the extensive Forman collection. Forman arrived in Warsaw in late August of 1939 and was able to capture images of the city just a few days before World War II broke out. Many buildings featured in his photographs, such as the National Theater, were destroyed during the September bombings. Forman remained in Poland during the first weeks of the war and documented the Nazi invasion of Poland, the desperate efforts of the Polish military to defend the country, and the fleeing of the civilian population from the bombed villages and cities. Forman with Polish troops.
A selection of Forman’s photographs of the Nazi invasion in Poland appeared in the American press in 1939, in papers such as The New York Post, The New York Daily News, and Travel magazine. He was one of the few Western journalists capturing the Blitzkrieg of Poland in September 1939. Forman evacuated from Poland through Romania at the end of September and managed to bring some of his photos with him. He was also able to use Polish government couriers and pilots to fly out some of the film rolls. According to his estimates, about twenty percent of the images did finally reach the United States. Many of the photographs, discovered in the Forman collection at the American Geographical Society Library, were probably never published, since corresponding prints could not be identified.
Upon his return from Poland, Forman went on a lecture tour around the United States and Canada. He gave lectures and presented his films and photographs about the Nazi invasion of Poland. A selection of newspaper clippings, included in this digital project, documents his lecture tours and provides a unique perspective of an American photojournalist on the outbreak of World War II in Poland. Forman was impressed with the fighting spirit of Polish soldiers and the courage of civilians, but was also critical of leadership of the Polish military commanders.
The Digital Project
The digital collection includes Forman’s images of the Nazi invasion of Poland, his article “Filming the Blitzkrieg,” and a selection of newspaper clippings. The images were scanned at the UWM Libraries’ Digitization Unit from nitrate film negatives using a film scanner. Photographic prints were used as a source for scanning when negatives were missing. The resulting digital master files in TIFF format are stored at the UWM Libraries.
The photographs were researched and indexed as part of a project to provide additional points of access to the content of the collection. The resources available in the Harrison Forman Collection, including his scrapbooks and his publications, were used during the research process. Forman’s captions, when available, were transcribed and included in the records. Subject terms were assigned using Library of Congress Subject Headings.
The newspaper clippings were selected from Forman’s 1938-1939 scrapbook, part of the Harrison Forman Collection at the American Geographical Society Library. The scrapbook includes materials about Forman’s travels in 1938 and 1939 in Asia and Europe. Some of the newspaper articles were published in 1940. The selection for this project includes only materials related to Forman’s experience in Poland during the Nazi invasion and his lecture tours upon his return to the United States. The newspaper clippings and Forman’s article “Filming the Blitzkrieg” were scanned using an overhead scanner. The digital version of these documents is provided in three formats: page images, text, and PDF (Adobe’s Portable Document Format).
- Tim Blomquist, Graduate Student Assistant, Digitization Unit, UWM Libraries
- Krystyna K. Matusiak, Digital Collections Librarian, Digitization Unit, UWM Libraries
- Susan Peschel, Visual Resources Librarian, American Geographical Society Library, UWM Libraries