WARSAW, Poland — During a doomed revolt against Nazi occupation in 1944, young insurgents organized their own postal service to help city residents get information to relatives cut off by street-to-street fighting in Warsaw.
The Warsaw Uprising museum took possession Wednesday of some of the letters, which testify to the Poles' anguish and offer insight into one of the most painful moments of the country's history.
"Dear Antoni, your son has been wounded and is staying with us," read one letter. "My wife is taking care of him."
Another correspondent pleaded for a sign of life from her brother.
"Please write a few words to our mother," she wrote. "She is dying of fear ... and can't sleep at night. Your loving sister Monika."
The letters illustrate the Poles' efforts to support each other during a difficult moment in history, which have become a source of national pride. But amid the destruction, many of the messages were never delivered and remain sealed.
The uprising erupted Aug. 1, 1944, and lasted 63 days. Some 250,000 civilians were killed in the revolt, which was waged in the hope of liberating the capital from the Nazis. Ultimately it was crushed, the survivors were deported to concentration camps and the city was razed.
During the fierce fighting, the insurgents — largely ill-armed teenagers — organized the postal service.
The service was also meant to give people a sense that they were living in a "small but independent state," museum director Jan Oldakowski said.
The museum bought the collection of some 123 letters and postcards last month at an auction in Duesseldorf, Germany. It paid $280,000 for the mail, written by Warsaw residents and young insurgents during the revolt, and bearing unique uprising-era stamps.
"The long journey of the uprising mail is over," Oldakowski said as he unsealed a metal chest containing the collection, which the museum plans to put on public show March 19. The museum hopes to bring some of the relatives of the people whose names appear in the letters to the exhibition's opening.
"Dear Beata ... I have no news of you," says one brief handwritten message scrawled on paper that has turned yellow. "We have six additional people staying with us now — friends forced into this by the conditions. Write me a few words, Marek."