The German occupation of Warsaw during World War II is a story of mass executions, repressions directed towards civilians and deportation of people to death camps, as well as widespread famine and humiliation caused by the armed forces and officials of the Third Reich. The most fierce enemies of the Polish nation were the Gestapo officers investigating in the capital, who fiercely hunted priests, representatives of the Polish intelligentsia, entrepreneurs and politicians, and later the members of the armed resistance movement – the Home Army.
The Polish underground did not remain indebted to the Germans. Daring executions were carried out by Home Army units, such as the killing of Franz Kutschera – SS and police commander in the Warsaw District of the General Government, who was a criminal called “the butcher of Warsaw”. On February 1, 1944, members of the special unit of the Home Army “PEGAZ” (pol. pegasus) in the centre of Warsaw carried out a successful attack on the hated SS-man.
In this article we wanted to write about a similar action, which took place earlier, on October 1, 1943. The aim of the Home Army sabotage units was the Gestapo official Ernst Weffels, the head of the women’s unit section in Pawiak (the German political prison in Warsaw). Weffels was known for his bestial and sadistic treatment of prisoners, but this fact was not the direct cause of the assassination attempt on his life. The denunciation of one of the women imprisoned there made the German very close to discovering the way of smuggling correspondence between the Polish underground and the Pawiak prisoners. When he knew that this was done with the help of the Polish staff of the prison hospital, the Home Army command decided to act and gave the order to kill Weffels.
The task of Weffels’ liquidation was undertaken by the members of the “Agat” Home Army unit (later renamed “Pegaz” – it was them who killed Kutschera a few months later). These people were called “anti-gestapo”. They were trained to assassinate officers such as Weffels – Germans remaining in the occupied capital who were infamous for their cruelty.
The whole action had to start with tracking and learning about Weffels’ everyday plan. The Home Army’s intelligence service was involved in this, which faced a difficult task because the Germans were aware of the existence of the Polish underground state and showed considerable caution. A common practice among the officers of the secret police of the Third Reich in occupied Warsaw was to limit their stay in public space, as well as not to reveal their personalities and even their faces. The Gestapo officers stationed in the city had personal bodyguards assigned. These precautions were caused by earlier liquidation actions against German criminals, which made it more and more difficult for Poles to conduct assassination attempts on their lives.
The Home Army managed to find Weffels. His reconnaissance was taken care of by captain Aleksander Kunicki, a Polish veteran of the First World War, the Polish-Bolshevik war of 1920 and the Third Silesian Uprising, and during the Second World War a member of the Polish independence underground. Kunicki had already done work on the Germans who were employed at Pawiak and knew that the Gestapo employed there used to work for 24 hours to have a day off later. They were transferred from Szucha Street to work and it was there, during daily observation, that Kunicki recognized a German corresponding to the drawing and reported that it was probably Ernst Weffels. Eventually, his identity was confirmed some time later by a former Pawiak prisoner.
Command of the liquidation team of five was handed over to Kazimierz Kardaś a.k.a. Orkan. The action was planned for October 1, 1943, and the execution of the sentence was to take place at the corner of Koszykowa Street and August 6 Street, near the main building occupied by the Gestapo in Warsaw. The briefing took place at 9:00 a.m. in Orkan‘s apartment. His people started to leave the apartment one by one at 11:00 a.m., and at 11:40 a gun was distributed in the Ujazdów Park. The participants of the action took the planned places.
Ernst Weffels left home at 12:02 a.m. Two minutes later his identity was confirmed by two Poles by means of gestures agreed earlier. Orkan quickly jumped at him, and from a close distance fired a few shots in the direction of the German, but Weffels did not fall down; instead, he started to run away towards the Ujazdów Park. Kardaś fired a few more times, but the magazine was empty. At the same time the rest of the unit fought with several German soldiers who had appeared in the meantime. At the entrance to the park a policeman also appeared, but escaped when Orkan aimed at him with an empty pistol.
Kardaś changed his gun’s magazine and moved away to find Weffels. He found the injured Gestapo officer at one of the park benches and without hesitation shot him in his head and picked up his documents. The whole unit, still shelling the approaching Germans, got into a car and quickly left. The further part of the escape went smoothly.
Although not much is said about it, Operation Weffels was one of the most spectacular actions of Home Army executors during World War II. Its planning and implementation were perfect, because the goal was achieved, the action itself was instantaneous and took place without any losses on the Polish side, which was extremely rare. Usually in similar liquidation actions members of the armed group of the Polish underground state often died.
The execution of Ernst Weffels for the Germans was a real shock. The Home Army unit proved that in the capital, Poles could reach any of the occupants and none of them could feel safe. This spectacular operation also raised the morale of both the members of the Home Army and of Warsaw civilians.
Further fate of selected participants of Operation Weffels:
- Kazimierz Kardaś a.k.a. “Orkan” died from the wounds of May 6, 1944, after he was seriously injured during one of the next combat operations.
- Aleksander Kunicki a.k.a. “Rayski” survived the war. In 1945 he was arrested by the communist authorities and sentenced to death. Eventually cleared of charges, in 1968 he published a book about his wartime memories. He died in 1986.
- Maria Stypułkowska-Chojecka a.k.a. “Kama” during the “Weffels” action was one person who conducted reconnaissance of the target and finally confirmed the identity of the German officer a moment before his death. She took part in the Warsaw Uprising, and died in 2016.
- Ernst Weffels’ lover, Sabina Bykowska, was shot five days later – on October 5, 1943. Earlier, Bykowska helped Weffels to recognize members of the Polish underground in Pawiak.