If all the liaison officers suddenly disappeared, the Home Army would not have survived even a week without them. Every day they risked their lives carrying reports, weapons, and bad parcels. They performed the most dangerous work in the Polish underground. And today hardly anyone remembers them.
When talking and writing about the Polish Underground State, they are usually mentioned in passing. Unlike, for example, nurses who often saved the lives of wounded soldiers, their work was not spectacular. However, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of liaison officers for the functioning of the entire conspiracy. It was on their shoulders, often just teenage girls, that there was a huge burden.
Pillar of the Underground State
Thanks to them, high-ranking members of the underground, who were absolutely unable to communicate in person on a daily basis, kept in touch with each other. However, this service - as emphasized in his book "Secret State" by Jan Karski - carried with it a constant risk:
The private flats of liaison officers were often placed at the disposal of the underground traffic. The liaison officer was not allowed to go away, she had to stay where it was easy to find her and she could not change her name or address without permission. As long as she was working for us, she couldn't hide or be out of sight ; otherwise, it would mean breaking off contacts between the conspirators and the various divisions of the underground movement.
The liaison officers and their apartments were constantly under the watchful eye of a special "observation unit." In the event of arrest, the liaison officer could not hand us over, even under torture, because within two or three hours everyone she came into contact with changed names and addresses .
Better than men
The situation was made worse by the fact that, due to the specificity of the work of the liaison officers, many people knew the details of their lives, and this does not bode well for anything good in the underground. The constant circulation on the same routes also attracted the attention of the Germans. Under such circumstances, they must have displayed remarkable willpower and nerves of steel. Jan Karski was well aware of this and emphasized that:
[...] Contrary to the worldwide opinion that women are talkative and indiscreet, my own experiences led me to believe that women generally check better than men in the conspiracy . While they don't do that well with some things, they make up for the more important qualities needed by underground movement.
They perceive danger faster, but less likely than men to bury their heads in the sand . They undoubtedly blend in better with their surroundings and are generally more cautious, discrete and common sense. The average woman who engages in secret political activities has a much greater "conspiratorial sense" compared to the typical man .
The liaison officers are the forgotten heroines of the Home Army. The photo shows the liaison officers of the Radosław Group.
Though they were more cunning and mentally resilient than their colleagues, even the most cautious connectors eventually fell into the ground. On average, their underground career lasted only three months - hardly any of them had a chance to live until the end of the war.
Certain death for the motherland
Usually they had incriminating materials with them, so their fate was sealed. They knew perfectly well what awaited them in the Gestapo torture rooms. Therefore, most of them, wishing to avoid collapse under torture, carried poison with them. Fearing that one capsule could be damaged during beating, they sewed into their clothing even several, e.g. under a coat cover and a blouse collar.
Liaison women who did not manage to take cyanide in time were subjected to brutal torture. An example of these is provided by the legendary courier of Fighting Poland:
Gestapo men stripped her naked and spread her on the floor. They tied her hands and legs to hooks and then beat her with rubber truncheons on the genitals. The aforementioned secret message said:when they took her, the lower half of her body was a bloody pulp.
The legendary courier of the Home Army, Jan Karski, appreciated the courage and dedication of the female liaison officers (source:Polish History Museum, courtesy of the Hoover Institute Archives in California).
Although the liaison officers were well aware of what their fate was most likely to be, there was never a shortage of volunteers ready to give their lives for the good of the cause. It is safe to say that it was them who had the worst fate in the underground movement ; they made the greatest sacrifices and their contributions were least appreciated .
It is worth remembering because - as Jan Karski emphasized - they worked beyond their strength and put themselves at risk the most. They did not receive promotions or decorations for their heroism.
- Jan Karski, Secret State , Horizon 2014 sign.