Wojtek The Bear that Went to War

wojtek bear 1Wojtek the bear that went to war, guzzled beer, liked eating cigarettes and fought alongside his fellow Polish soldiers. The name Wojtek in Polish means “smiling warrior”, a perfect name for this orphaned bear cub taken in by Polish army soldiers in Iran in 1942. In recent years more and more memorials and projects remember this bear. Besides being a fun story, the memory of Woytek honors the cooperation of Scottish and Polish soldiers in the UK, a commonwealth historically reluctant to honor Poles’ contributions.

wojtek 2

In 1942, a young Iranian boy gave an adopted bear cub to the Polish army stationed in Iran. The soldiers fed the bear condensed milk out of a converted vodka bottle, and marmalade, syrup and eventually beer, which became his favorite drink. Reports state he loved eating cigarettes as well.

Wojtek enlisted in the Polish Army
As Woytek (pronounced VOY-tek) grew he was unafraid of humans, and became the unofficial mascot for soldiers in nearby units. When it came time for the army to ship out, troops realized that only members of the army can travel with the army and on board ship. Solution? Enlist Wojtek in the Polish Army.

The army assigned Wojtek a serial number, the rank of Private and put his name on the paybook. Though Voytek never collected on his paycheck, he was allowed double food rations. The bear lived with other soldiers in their tents and travelled by ship with the rest of the army in a large crate. During the 1944 battle of Cassino (Italy) the furry Private Woytek proved his worth as a soldier by carrying live ammunition for the troops.

Edinburgh Scotland Becomes home after WWII
Woytek accompanied Polish soldiers to Scotland after the war. Most did not want to return to a communist Poland and stayed there. Wojtek “retired” and beginning in 1947 he lived out his remaining years in the Edinburgh Zoo.  He remained a popular attraction and draw for young and old alike.

Accolades and Honors
Wojtek has been memorialized in many ways. In May 2014 the City of Krakow unveiled a statue of Wojtek in Jordano Park. Statue of Wojtek erected in Krakow.  The Wojtek Memorial Trust has raised more than $430,000 for a statue of the bear to be erected in an Edinburgh park. The trust is hoping to unveil the statue in November 2015.

(Film) Wojtek: The Bear That Went to War (2011); Facebook: Wojtek: The Bear that went to War; (Books) – multiple, including a children’s novel – Soldier Bear.

Scottish news program (YouTube) – excellent summary

I like this version, written for a German online news site. The title: Wojtek the Bear: The Nazis’ Furriest Enemy. Spiegel Online International – July 2012

Wojtek the Bear web site

Top photo, soldier feeding bear courtesy of culture.pl.  The second photo, man standing with bear, is courtesy of polishculture.org/uk.

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Tags: Just for Fun, Polish History

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