One of the big themes that’s emerging in the book is the importance of communication to the Home Army. With the newspapers, radio, and telephones taken over, even the post office was subject to oppression.

Post offices figure in the occupation early. The Polish Post Office in Gdansk was heavily defended, with around 50 people in it on the morning of September 1, 1939. After two days of heavy fighting, the remaining four or so defenders surrendered to the Germans and were summarily shot in the street outside. The post office was a representative of the Polish Government in the Free City of Gdansk, so this was one of the reasons it was so heavily defended. We don’t really know what was in the post office that was so valuable because the information is STILL classified.

As the Wehrmacht moved deeper into Poland on its mission to kill as many people as possible, the German government began sending officials into Poland to take control of the country in its quest for domination. Among the first steps were to secure all forms of communication. The false Polish takeover of the radio station at Gleiwitz led to the real takeover of Polish radio by the Nazi occupiers. The newspapers were taken over and either dismantled or turned to Nazi propaganda purposes; consequently, the Polish Underground State constantly moved its presses around and was always looking for writers and publishers. Even telephone calls could only be made with a permit, and callers knew the enemy was always listening.

As to the post office, sending a letter meant showing identification, and again, everyone knew the censors read all the mail. The Polish Post Office under German occupation was unreliable, slow, and sometimes very dangerous.

Enter the couriers.

English: Pictures in the book were taken by: Polski: Autorami fotografii w książkce są: Stefan BałukStanisław BarańskiJerzy BeegerTadeusz BukowskiJerzy ChojnackiWiesław ChrzanowskiLech GąszewskiEugeniusz HanemanStefan RassalskiAndrzej RyttelStanisław SommerJerzy TomaszewskiJerzy ZarzyckiWacław Żdżarski / Public domain

The courier service carried documents and information all over Poland and sometimes to other countries. They delivered messages, false identification, and distributed clandestine newspapers. Perhaps the best known among them was Tosia Altman, who later served as a courier and liaison during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The Home Army’s couriers were nearly always young women. The girls in the photo above were mail carriers during the Warsaw Uprising; most of the time the couriers moved around the countryside or the city in everyday clothes, with documents up their sleeves or disguised in secret compartments of briefcases. It was hoped that being female, they would attract less official attention (because they weren’t expected to be fighting somewhere).

According to Jan Karski, their average life expectancy after taking on these duties was about six weeks.

Every now and then, there’s news that a letter written during the Warsaw Uprising has been delivered. The couriers had post boxes and hiding places, and sometimes the letters were hidden and not retrieved. It’s considered a testament to their bravery, and a commitment to a free society, to deliver these letters when they are found.

It’s strange to think of it now. I can walk right outside and put a letter in the box; the carrier picks it up and it starts the journey to wherever it needs to go. I don’t have to show identification, and it only costs 55 cents rather than someone’s life. In a world full of complicated options, sending a birthday card to my mother is–and should be–easy.