British historiography often dates the outbreak of World War II to the day of the British-French declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939. For the Poles, however, the war had already begun three days before with the German invasion, and in the Far East or Africa hostilities broke out even earlier.

It marks the approach taken by the London Imperial War Museum in its new portrayal of World War II and the Holocaust that September 3, 1939 is no longer given as the date for the start of the war.

Gina Thomas

Features correspondent based in London.

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The aim is to put the British experience in a global context with 3500 objects on an area of ​​more than 3000 square meters and to demonstrate in all facets how this “total war” affected the world population. In one of the interactive elements, the radio stations in the installation, which is modeled on a typical petty-bourgeois British living room, can be changed in order to receive reports from other countries. In the section on the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, visitors can compose the headline for the front page of a newspaper on the screen. The choices are: "Trapped / Defeated / Brave Army Saved / Escaped / Driven from France". This exercise is an example of the curators' approach: They maintain exemplary impartiality,explain by means of clear, concise signs that are neither too stupid for adults nor over the heads of children, and leave the comments to the visitors.

Individual fates from all over the world

Often the same events are told from different perspectives in order to question the traditional narrative.

Recently acquired footage with images of Japanese civilians celebrating the fall of Singapore in early 1942, which was described as the greatest military defeat of the Allies, serves, for example, as a corrective to the perception suggested by British reports that the war in the Pacific region consisted only of disasters for the enemy .

Or testimonies by recruits from the colonies shed a different light on the propaganda representation of the empire's contribution to the war, which is not always voluntary.

In this context, the often invoked myth is also questioned that Great Britain stood alone in the fight against Hitler.

The experiences of German soldiers who were deployed in British captivity in the countryside are presented from their perspective as foreigners as well as from that of their “hosts”.

One of the innumerable objects that touch the heart is a dachshund on casters.

It was made from an old apple crate by prisoner of war Walter Klemenz as a Christmas present for the children of "his" farmer.

Here it is exhibited together with photos of the children who received the presents and one of the letters that Klemenz wrote to the farming family on his return home.

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