Writing Lilac Girls, I had a great time researching the girl guides, a group instrumental to the Polish underground during WWII. In that war, the Polish resistance movement was the largest in all of Nazi-occupied Europe and Polish Girl Scouts (called Girl Guides abroad) joined in huge numbers. It was a natural progression for the girls, since it was an established social network. Frustrated by their Nazi oppressors who tried to wipe out Poland and Polish culture the Guides did important work to fight back.
The younger guides helped any way they could: used their Girl Guide first aid training to bandage Polish wounded, deciphered coded messages, delivered underground and fake German newspapers and reported German troop movement. The older guides tackled bigger, often riskier jobs such as fighting alongside male underground members, running orphanages and blowing up bridges.One of the three main characters in Lilac Girls, a young Polish girl, goes directly from the Girl Guides to the incredibly well-organized, para-military Polish underground, which answered to the AK, Armia Krajowa. It’s a transition that thousands of young women made in Poland at the time, from innocent scout to Nazi-fighter. A transition that landed so many of them at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where 0ver 40% of those imprisoned at the camp were Polish Political prisoners. The Nazis knew how important young scouts and guides were to the anti-Nazi effort. One of the first groups executed after the German invasion of Poland was a troop of Polish boy scouts.
Girl Guides served as postal carriers during WWII.
Poland had such a large underground, in part, because of their growth during WWI.
Guides from thirty-two countries, including Poland and Germany enjoyed the Pax Ting International Girl Guide Camp in Hungary (below) in August 1939 on the eve of WWII. War broke out as the gathering was adjourning and many had to travel through active battle zones to make it home.
The Girl Guides started in the UK and the organization spread all over Europe and to the U.S. According to The Owl and the Toadstool website, Olga Malkowska (above), the 1st Chief Commissioner of Poland Girl Guides opened the first boarding school for Guides. During the outbreak of war she sent most of the girls home to their families, but 12 Guides who were employed at the school remained. Olga and the Girl Guides fled to Romania. They used their Guide skills along the way doing first aid, avoiding the enemy and aerial machine guns. They found a Romanian convent Orphanage and the Guides stayed at the convent to take care of the orphans. Olga made her way to Girl Guide headquarters in London to seek help, a testament to the power and ingenuity of scouts and guides.
Janie Hampton’s wonderful book tells the whole story of the Girl Guides. Find it here in the U.S.: http://www.amazon.com/How-The-Girl-Guides-Won/dp/0753152819
Also, The Owl and Toadstool website is a great source for more information about Girl Guides (with a wonderful design.) Find it here: http://owl-and-toadstool.blogspot.com/2011/11/role-of-girl-guides-during-war-time.html