Western Europe 1939-1945: Occupation

How did occupation affect peoples’ lives?

Extracts from a letter written by a young Polish girl February 2nd 1940

Catalogue ref: FO 371/24472

Extract a

Events in Poland; FO 371.24472

Extract b

Events in Poland; FO 371.24472

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What is this source?

This source is taken from a letter written by a Polish girl from Warsaw who lived through the German invasion of Poland.

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The letter was sent to a relative in Britain. That relative then passed the letter on to the Foreign Office so that they could see what was happening in Poland.


What’s the background to this source?

The Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939. Soon afterwards the USSR invaded Poland from the East and the country collapsed. Conditions for Polish civilians were appalling. As well as food shortages and other hardships, the population was strictly controlled. There was a curfew and listening to the radio was punishable by death.

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As soon as they had conquered the country the Nazis set about putting their plans into action. The first was to clear Poles out of their homes and off the land so that German settlers could take their place and gain new living space or “Lebensraum”. The second was to round up the Polish Jews and force them to live in ghettos. A ghetto is usually a poor section of a city inhabited mainly by people of the same race, religion, or social background, often because of discrimination. Many Jews were killed during the process of forcing them into the city ghetto areas, but at this stage the policy of mass murder had not yet come into force.


It’s worth knowing that...

In other parts of the letter the girl indicates that conditions in other parts of Poland were even worse than they were in Warsaw.

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Unlike source 2, the writer of this source was still in Poland and she was writing to a relative in Britain. She was therefore writing to her own family rather than trying to influence British government officials. They only received this letter because a family member passed it on.


Does this source support the drawing by T. Cuneo?

  1. According to both of these extracts, how did the Germans deal with any kind of resistance?
  2. After reading this source, do you feel more inclined to trust or mistrust the drawing by T. Cuneo or the other document from Poland in the source box?
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this source as evidence of what it was like to live under Nazi rule?

Use this table to record your views.