This Week in Universal News: The Invasion of Poland, 1939

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, marking the official start of the Second World War. Sixteen days later, Russia invaded Poland from the east. By the end of September, Poland had succumbed to the dual attacks. The nation was divided between Russia and Germany according to boundaries established in a secret clause of a nonaggression pact the two nations had signed the previous week. Although Polish military forces were overcome, a strong Polish resistance existed throughout the duration of the war.

This week we are featuring two Universal newsreels, covering both the German and Russian invasions. The initial invasion prompted Universal to release a special edition on September 4th, 1939, while the newsreel covering the Russian invasion contains a full slate of stories. The narration tracks for these reels no longer exist, but the audio for President Roosevelt’s neutrality speech has survived. We have also scanned the script for the September 4th, 1939 Special Release.

Germany invades Poland, Universal News Vol. 11, Rel. 803 September 4th, 1939:

Russia invades Poland, Universal News Vol. 11, Rel. 807 September 18, 1939:

Release sheet for September 4th Special Release:

SPECIAL RELEASE ALLIES DECLARE WAR ON NAZIS  Dramatic scenes of a new conflict that may envelop the world in flames!  Hitler’s war machine rolls into Poland-encouraged to strike by the new pact with Stalin’s “Red” Russia.  With Danzig seized, Polish infantry and cavalry rally to the defense of their homeland.  Italy remains in the background, while Nazis pour into the Siegfried Lines to stem a possible Allied thrust.     ENGLAND. Tense eleventh-hour scenes in London, as Prime Minister Chamberlain declares a state of war exists!  Troops mobilize and air raid defenses are manned to prevent bombing attacks.  Thousands of helpless  children are evacuated to the countryside!     The French war machine swings into high gear as France follows the lead of Britain in declaring war!  Bus loads of troops leave the city enroute to the “Front.”  Eight million men under arms, ready to strike!  The Maginot Line ready to repulse any attack!    Dazed New Yorkers throng Times Square as news of the fateful conflict reaches the U.S. “Extras” proclaim the news in blaring headlines, and Americans wonder what the future holds in store!    WASHINGTON, D.C.  President Roosevelt, his peace efforts failed, appeals for national unity in the crisis and pledges his fight for neutrality!     NEPORT NEWS, VA.  The S.S. America, largest liner ever built in the U.S. , is christened by Mrs. Roosevelt.  Shortly after, the world is shocked when the British ship “Athenia” with 300 Americans aboard, is torpedoed and sank!

Script for the September 4th Special Release covering Germany’s invasion of Poland:

Click through to read all three pages of the script:

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.