The Nazi in­va­sion of poland

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‘führer Di­rec­tive no. 1 for the Con­duct of the war’ was per­son­ally signed by adolf hitler and con­tained the of­fi­cial or­der to in­vade poland on 31 au­gust 1939. this his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant dec­la­ra­tion started wwii, and this par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ment, ‘Copy num­ber two’, was is­sued to the Ger­man naval high Com­mand.

In­ter­spersed with those there are ex­am­ples of more per­sonal doc­u­ments that ap­ply to a greater range of peo­ple. To cover ra­tioning we chose Queen Mary’s ra­tion book. Although the one we used be­longed to Queen Mary, it was the same ra­tion book that was is­sued to ev­ery­one in the UK. It’s a great re­minder that ra­tioning ap­plied to ev­ery­one.

WHICH DOC­U­MENTS STAND OUT FOR YOU?

I like the Dunkirk evac­u­a­tion plan. If you look at that im­age it’s a very hastily pen­cilscrawled plan on a ran­dom bit of paper.

Just look­ing at the way it was cre­ated tells you some­thing about Dunkirk. For the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in­volved, it was sim­ply a case of com­ing up with a last-minute plan and do­ing what you could to get away. Look­ing at that par­tic­u­lar doc­u­ment tells you that it’s not a tidy, care­fully thought-up plan: its just a scrawl. After the evac­u­a­tion the of­fi­cer who had it just folded it up and put it in his pocket, but that’s how it sur­vived. There were prob­a­bly loads of oth­ers that were just sim­ply thrown away.

WE LIVE IN A DIG­I­TAL AGE WHERE PAPER DOC­U­MEN­TA­TION IS IN DE­CLINE. HOW IM­POR­TANT IS PAPER AS A MEDIUM FOR RECORD­ING HIS­TORY?

That’s a very good ques­tion. We all face a very great chal­lenge in the fu­ture in terms of record­ing his­tory. The way peo­ple look back on key events is al­ready more in the way of film, video and pho­to­graphs, which are more im­me­di­ate. If you think about more re­cent con­flicts like Afghanistan or even the Gulf, they are the chief me­dia by which to study it.

Although there are paper records to­day they tend to be more of­fi­cial ones. In terms of things that the IWM looks after, like per­sonal di­aries and let­ters, I do fear that they will be­come fewer and fewer. I find it slightly sad in a way be­cause a writ­ten doc­u­ment is a more per­sonal con­nec­tion. To han­dle a piece of paper that was on the beaches of Dunkirk, for ex­am­ple, is an im­por­tant con­nec­tion, and I think the dan­ger is that you’ll lose that in the fu­ture.

Ger­man troops break the bor­der bar­rier in the Pol­ish town of Sopot, 1 Sep­tem­ber 1939

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