Who was the US photographer who documented Warsaw’s suffering in 1939?

By Grzegorz Adamczyk
3 Min Read

In September 1939, Julien Bryan spent two weeks in Warsaw. During that time, he documented the crimes committed by the Germans on Polish civilians. His photos and film were the first evidence for the cruelty of modern warfare.

“President Roosevelt and the people of America, listen to my story. Those who listen, please write it down word for word. I speak from the besieged city of Warsaw, Poland. My name is Bryan – Julien Bryan, American photographer. I now have the opportunity to send a message to America. My job today is to tell a simple story of what I have seen with my own eyes during the last ten days,” he started his dramatic appeal to the conscience of the world.

Bryan informed American listeners that American diplomatic staff and citizens were safe in the basements beneath the embassy. He then gave his report from the besieged city.

He spoke of the crimes committed by the German air force, the Luftwaffe, which was shooting defenseless civilians and dropping bombs on houses. According to Bryan’s report, many people had died, and the streets were littered with bodies. Warsaw’s inhabitants were forced to live in ruins.

“I can and must speak for the Polish people over the air tonight, to tell everyone in America, including you President Roosevelt, what has happened to us here and to the 35 million innocent Polish people. America must act and help so that this most dreadful slaughter of modern times be stopped.  We ask you in the name of decency, justice and Christianity to aid these brave Polish people,” he appealed.

After his return to the US, Bryan published photos from the besieged Warsaw in “Life” magazine on Oct. 23, 1939 and in “Look” on Dec. 5 1939. The world was shocked by the dramatic images from the war in Poland.

In 1940, he made a film titled “Siege” which received wide-spread recognition and was nominated to the 1941 Academy Awards. Years later, Bryan also wrote a book about the 1939 siege of Warsaw.

He returned to Poland several times after the end of the war. In 1946, he took photos of the ruined city. He visited again in 1958 and the heroes of his photos were found again with the help of a large-scale operation carried out by the Polish daily “Evening Express”.

Bryan returned to Warsaw for the last time in 1974 where he was warmly welcomed. He died that same year on Oct. 20 in New York.

Title image: Julien Bryan pictured in Warsaw in 1939. (Source: polskieradio.pl)

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