On October 1, 1943, one of the boldest and most glorious actions in the history of the Polish Underground State during World War II took place. Members of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) sabotage unit carried out a daring operation on the streets of Warsaw, killing Ernst Weffels, a Gestapo officer working at Pawiak prison, who was infamous for his almost animalistic cruelty towards the imprisoned inmates.
The German occupation of Warsaw during World War II is a history marked by mass executions, repressions targeting civilians, deportations to extermination camps, as well as widespread hunger and humiliations inflicted by the armed forces and officials of the Third Reich. The most ruthless enemies of the Polish nation were the Gestapo officers conducting investigations in the capital, who relentlessly and brutally hunted down priests, representatives of the Polish intelligentsia, entrepreneurs, and politicians, and later members of the armed resistance movement – the Home Army.
The Polish resistance movement did not fall behind the Germans. Throughout history, there were daring execution actions carried out by the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) units, such as the killing of Franz Kutschera – the SS and police leader of the Warsaw District in the General Government, a criminal known as the “Butcher of Warsaw.” On February 1, 1944, members of the special AK unit “Pegaz” successfully executed the hated SS officer in the center of Warsaw.
In this article, we wanted to address a similar action that took place earlier, on October 1, 1943. The target of the sabotage units of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa) was Gestapo officer Ernst Weffels, the head of the women’s prison in Pawiak (a German political prison in Warsaw). Weffels was known for his brutal and sadistic treatment of prisoners, but this fact was not the direct reason for the assassination attempt on his life. The denunciation of one of the imprisoned women there led the German officer very close to discovering the method of smuggling correspondence between the Polish underground and the Pawiak prisoners. Once he became aware that this was being done with the assistance of Polish hospital personnel within the prison, the Home Army command decided to take action and issued an order to kill the cruel Gestapo officer.
The task of eliminating Weffels was undertaken by members of the Home Army unit “Agat” (later renamed “Pegaz” – it was they who, a few months later, also killed Franz Kutschera). These individuals were referred to as “anti-Gestapo.” They were trained to carry out assassinations of officers like Weffels, who were known for their exceptional cruelty while occupying the German-occupied capital.
The entire operation had to start with tracking and understanding Weffels’ daily schedule. The intelligence of the Home Army was involved in this task, which faced a challenging situation since the Germans were aware of the existence of the Polish underground state and exercised considerable caution. It was common practice among the officers of the secret police in occupied Warsaw to limit their presence in public spaces (they were transported to work) and to avoid revealing their identities, even their faces. The Gestapo agents stationed in the city had personal guards assigned to them. These precautionary measures were a result of previous assassination attempts on German war criminals, making it increasingly difficult for Poles to carry out attacks on their lives
The Home Army managed to locate Weffels. His reconnaissance was carried out by Captain Aleksander Kunicki, a Polish veteran of World War I, the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920, and the Third Silesian Uprising. During World War II, he was a member of the Polish underground resistance. Kunicki had previously been involved in monitoring Germans working at Pawiak Prison and knew that the Gestapo officers there worked 24 hours and then had a day off. They were transported to work from Szucha Avenue, and it was during his daily observation that Kunicki identified a German who matched the description and reported that it was likely Ernst Weffels. Eventually, his identity was confirmed by a former inmate of Pawiak Prison some time later.
The command of the 5-person liquidation team was entrusted to Kazimierz Kardas, codenamed “Orkan.” The operation was planned for October 1, 1943, and the execution of the sentence was to take place on August 6, near the main Gestapo building at the corner of Koszykowa and 6 Sierpnia streets in Warsaw. The briefing was held at Orkan’s apartment at 9:00 a.m. His team members began leaving the apartment individually at 11:00 a.m., and at 11:40 a.m., the distribution of weapons took place in Ujazdowski Park. The participants of the operation took their designated positions.
Ernst Weffels left his house at 12:02. Two minutes later, his identity was confirmed through pre-established gestures by two individuals from the Polish unit. Orkan quickly closed in on him and fired several accurate shots at the German from close range, but Weffels did not fall and began to flee towards Ujazdowski Park. Kardaś fired a few more times, but his magazine ran out. At the same time, the Polish cover team engaged in a battle with several German soldiers who had arrived upon hearing the shots. A police officer also appeared at the entrance to the park, but fled when Orkan aimed an empty pistol at him.
Kardaś changed the magazine and moved away to locate Weffels. He found the wounded and bloodied Gestapo officer near one of the benches in the park and without hesitation, shot him in the head and retrieved the documents. The entire unit, still engaging incoming Germans with gunfire, got into the car and swiftly drove away. The rest of the escape proceeded without disruptions.
While not widely discussed, the “Weffels” operation was one of the most spectacular actions undertaken by the AK (Home Army) executioners during World War II. Its planning and execution were impeccable, as the intended objective was successfully achieved. The operation itself was swift and carried out without any own casualties, which was exceptionally rare. Typically, in similar assassination operations, members of the armed wing of the Polish underground state often suffered losses.
The execution of Ernst Weffels was a true shock for the Germans. The Home Army unit proved that in the capital, Poles could reach any of the occupiers, and none of them could feel safe. The spectacular operation also boosted the morale of both Home Army members and Warsaw civilians.
The subsequent fate of selected heroes from the “Weffels” operation:
- Kazimierz Kardaś, codenamed “Orkan,” died from injuries on May 6, 1944, after being seriously wounded during the “Stamm” operation.
- Aleksander Kunicki, codenamed “Rayski,” survived the war. In 1945, he was arrested by communist authorities and sentenced to death. Ultimately cleared of charges, he published a book about his wartime memories in 1968. He passed away in 1986.
- Maria Stypułkowska-Chojecka, codenamed “Kama,” was one of the individuals during the “Weffels” operation who conducted target reconnaissance and ultimately confirmed the identity of the German just moments before his death. She also participated in the Warsaw Uprising and passed away in 2016.
- Ernst Weffels’ lover, Sabina Bykowska, was shot and killed on October 5, 1943. Prior to her death, Bykowska had assisted Weffels in infiltrating and gathering intelligence on members of the Polish underground at Pawiak prison.