Another post by mochafueld (Lon). There’s no holding him back once he gets started. Edited slightly by me, scatts.
A giant statue of French President Charles de Gaulle in the middle of Warsaw? Why is there a giant cross near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? What is that symbol that I keep seeing on buildings of what looks like an “anchor with a P?” These are just some of the questions I asked myself as I started to spend time in Warsaw last year. I quickly learned that Warsaw’s streets, statues and buildings have many interesting stories to tell to anyone who will stop to look and read (or even a Google search). More interestingly I have found that Warsaw has many stories that lay buried or unmarked due to Communist era suppression, lack of funds, or just being lost to time and the destruction of Warsaw in 1944.
I will admit I am one of those people who loves history and taking trips to visit obscure battlefields or museums just to walk the ground and lean more. It was this curiosity and a chance picture I took off a plaque on the ground in front of Park Ujazdowski, located on Aleje Ujazdowski street, that led me to the Story of Operation Kutschera – the assassination of a Nazi SS General in early 1944 by the resistance.
Now I don’t read or speak Polish so it was not until I had a friend translate this plaque followed by a Google search that for me this incredible story and the even bigger story of Operation Heads in in World War II Poland. Briefly, Operation Heads was the Polish Home Armies answer to the cruel treatment of its citizens by the occupying Germans and their collaborators. The answer, targeted assassination of those who were most cruel in carrying out reprisals against the Polish population (in 1942-44, 400 people a day on average were being murdered).*
What fascinated me about this event was that it took place on streets that people now casually walk along every day and near such a lovely park, without really knowing what happened here only a few decades ago. Additionally the men and women who carried out the assassination were mostly teenagers – the plaque talks about a 14 year old girl who took a dangerous and key position in full view of the Germans so she could signal the start of the action. Today this event is honored every year by the Polish Boy Scouts and a rock/plaque stands in front of the building where the event happened.
I set out to find out more and took a few pictures along the way, which can seen in the slideshow below.
Reading about this WW II operation led me to consider what other pieces of history was I missing out on? Over the next few months I spent time; at the Casino Monument (dedicated to Polish soldiers who fought in Italy) at Ratusz Metro, tracked down the story of the statue at the Plac Bankowy tram stop (Mayor of Warsaw in 1939 who disappeared into concentration camp), was shown the still standing parts of the Warsaw ghetto walls and toured the old Jewish Cemetery with a Polish friend, dug further into the incredible story of the only British airman to survive the explosion of his bomber (delivering supplies to the uprising in 44) over Park Skaryszewski in Praga and read as many plaques (i.e took a picture and asked a friend later!) that I came across. My eyes were opened to the incredible history that that Warsaw has to tell. Curiosity killed the cat, but I was enjoying it.
Now I am not going to give you the answers to my opening paragraph that will be up to the reader. A great starting point for people visiting Warsaw is the Uprising Museum dedicated to the events of 1944; you will find a lot of information here and if you want to learn more I am sure the staff can help. It should be noted again that many of the interesting stories from WW II and that emphasize Polish nationalism were suppressed under communism so finding the locations or stories themselves take a little work.
Another story from Operation Heads that of Operation Burkl. This was the second action of Operation Heads and the first success. The assassination of Franz Burkl took place at the junction of Marszałkowska and Litewska. The shot below, taken from the linked website, which is very helpful by the way (but in Polish) shows how the junction looked then. In the slideshow is a shot of how it looks today.
So I/we would love to hear from the readers what places have they discovered or would suggest are worth visiting or knowing more about?
*It must be noted that between 1940-43 over 250,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw ghetto to German concentration camps to die plus another 50,000 died in the uprising of 1943.