Operation Heads

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.

How it looked in 1943

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?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*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.

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9 thoughts on “Operation Heads

  1. tourwarsaw says:

    Great post, it’s good to know there are people who explore the history by themselves so deeply. Warsaw is particulary difficult to understand if you can’t do this :) Congratulations and best regards

  2. Bob says:

    I agree 100% with Ewa – great post. Makes me desire to wander around the city more often with an eye to the detail and plethora of historical sites and ‘mini’ sites that abound.


  3. Seaside Chris says:

    Minor correction: that girl was 17, not 14:

    Not that it makes it any less admirable.

  4. mochafueled says:

    Glad I could help out a bit. Nine months of walking around and only touched the tip of the stories. Scatts/Ian was my first Warsaw tour guide back in the winter of 2008 during my first Warsaw visit. Love to hear what others have found and any corrections or additions. Back in California for the summer.

    I would be curious to know if you go to school in Warsaw what history / how much is taught of modern Warsaw history?

  5. tourwarsaw says:

    Seaside Chris says: Minor correction: that girl was 17, not 14

    Yes, “kama’ was 17, but there was also the second girl-courier “Dewajtis” who was actually 14 years old > http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/El%C5%BCbieta_Dzi%C4%99bowska


  6. mochafueled says:

    Thanks Tourwarsaw – so according the the bad English translation Elizabeth Dziębowska is still alive. True? It would be great for someone to grade a bit of living history for an interview? I’m not is town… any Polish people loving history willing to take the mission?

  7. Seaside Chris says:

    @tourwarsaw – Oh, right. I stand corrected.

    @mochafueled – If the wiki article is correct, she’s indeed alive and well.

  8. tourwarsaw says:

    Yes, they are both alive (“Kama” and “Dewajtis”).
    “Kama” lives in Warsaw, “Dewajtis” lives in the area of Krakow.
    Here some photos taken in February 2009 – at 65th anniversarry of “Operation Kutschera”

  9. mochafueled says:

    tour thanks for the Facebook link – really awesome to see the pictures of the reenactment.

    Would be great to see an interview with any of the survivors.

    Also should be noted as part of Operation Heads there was a failed attempt in Krakow that is well documented at the excellent museum in the Schindler factory building. I visited in May and the experience of seeing / feeling what Krakow was like from 39-45 gave me chills. Highly recommend.

    Here is an article from the New York Times.

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