Wojtek the Polish World War II Hero

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Wojtek the Polish World War II Hero

Wojtek the bear giving his army friends his famous bear hug.

Wojtek the bear giving his army friends his famous bear hug.

AA's Archives

Wojtek the bear giving his army friends his famous bear hug.

AA's Archives

AA's Archives

Wojtek the bear giving his army friends his famous bear hug.

Renee Chaples, Secretary

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April 8th, 1942 a group of Polish soldiers ran into a boy in the mountains of Iran. The boy had a satchel and in it contained a Siberian Bear cub that the boy claimed was abandoned after the mother was shot and killed. The soldiers decided to trade some chocolate and other possession they had for custody of the bear cub, which they later named Wojtek meaning “Happy at War” in Polish.

At first, the soldiers made an attempt to keep Wojtek a secret from their superiors, but eventually word got out. Fortunately everyone had loved and accepted the new companion by then. The soldiers fed the baby bear condensed milk from a vodka bottle and raised him like a human child. Once he had grown he was given war rations but due to his increasing size, his rations were doubled.

Wojtek was well-known and liked by the other soldiers at the base. He would often drink beer and smoke cigarettes with his army friends (by smoking he usually just ate the lit cigarettes). Wojtek enjoyed wrestling but he never would cause harm to the soldiers and was very gentle and even gave hugs. Along with that the bear was known to be quite a prankster. He would turn on the showers causing the base to have frequent water shortages, chase oranges the infantry used to practice throwing bombs, and the older soldiers would often use him to scare the new recruits.

The men grew very attached to Wojtek. Since most of their family was deceased due to the Nazi invasion of Poland  Wojtek was like a family member to them. He provided emotional support to the soldiers, expert psychiatrists would later explain.

Wojtek was also handy in battle. The infamous battle of Monte Cassino, the bear was spotted carrying boxes of ammunition back and forth to aid the soldiers. The bear’s prankster nature did thrive even in battle when he would try to carry the empty crates. However, this still lifted the spirits of the men. Due to his help in the battle, the Polish army designed the bear his own emblem, he was considered a cult hero and even assigned the rank of private in the army.

However, after the end of the war most of the Polish army-men had scattered through Europe. Wojtek and his closer friends would remain in Edinburgh, Scotland to avoid going home to the now communist Polish controlled by the Russians. While there, Wojtek lived in the Edinburgh Zoo and would live there for the rest of his life. The soldiers would often visit him and through cigarettes  into his cage. It was noted that Wojtek could recognize his ex-coworkers and would even wave.

Wojtek would later die in the Zoo in 1963 at the crisp age of 22 years old. Once he had died he held the rank of Corporal and a bronze statue was erected in Edinburgh in his honor.