Wojtek the Soldier Bear

December 14, 2013
Hero Bear

The Soldier Bear

Reblogged from Newzar (by Kamila Kulma)

The Wojtek Memorial Trust will erect a statue of the famous Nazi-battling brown bear that became the pride of General Władysław Anders’ Army. The bronze statue will stand in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh in 2014. “It will be a symbol of friendship between Poland and the United Kingdom,” said Robin Barnett, British Ambassador to Poland. Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, was found in Iran by a local boy in April 1942. He sold the bear cub to soldiers of the Polish Army stationed nearby for a couple of cans of meat. As a cub, Wojtek had problems swallowing so the little bear was fed condensed milk from a vodka bottle. Later, the soldiers fed him fruit, marmalade, honey and beer, which became his favourite drink. Wojtek became the mascot of all the Polish units stationed nearby and was taught to salute. He enjoyed smoking and eating cigarettes. When the Polish Army was later deployed in Europe the only way to keep Wojtek, also known as the ‘Soldier Bear’, was given a rank and number. Consequently, Wojtek was officially drafted into the General Anders Army and listed among the soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps. Together with the soldiers, firstly as a rank-and-file soldier and then with the rank of corporal, he moved from Iran to Iraq and then through Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Italy. An image of Wojtek carrying an artillery shell became the official symbol of 22nd Company. As the end of the WWII approached, the future of the Polish Army was uncertain. Many soldiers who served in the same unit as Wojtek were from eastern Poland. This territory was invaded by Stalin in 1939 and the Yalta Conference legitimised the Soviet territorial smash-and-grab leaving many Polish soldiers with no homes to go back to. Most of them remained in exile, including Wojtek.

Polish War Hero

Brothers-in-arms

In 1946 the Polish bear sailed together with his brothers-in-arms of the General Anders Army to Clydes and were then transported to Berwickshire. A year later Wojtek was given to Edinburgh Zoo where he spent the remaining years of his life. He was often visited by journalists and his Polish friends from the army who tossed him sweets and cigarettes. Wojtek continued to react to words spoken in Polish. Sadly, Wojtek died in December 1963 in Edinburgh Zoo. “Wojtek deserves to be called a War Hero who moved soldiers’ hearts,” said British Ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett. “He was a soldier who helped strengthen the friendship between Brits and Poles. As the beloved mascot of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps not only did he boost morale but he also supported his fellow soldiers on the fields of combat. He took active participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino during which Polish soldiers played a major role,” said Robin Barnett. In his opinion, the story of Wojtek is inspiring and has great historic significance. Dorota Gałaszewska-Chilczuk of the Office of War Veterans and Victims of Oppression emphasised that Wojtek made important contributions to winning WWII. She added that he served and was paid like every other soldier. In his case the salary were increased portions of food and beer as a bonus. He was very close with his fellow soldiers and lived with the other men in the same tent. During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Wojtek transported ammunition and never dropped a single crate. He also carried heavy mortar rounds. “The Soldier Bear took part in the liberation of Ancona and Bologna,” said Galaszewska-Chilczuk. She also added that Wojtek became very popular among civilians and the press when he arrived in Scotland.

Brothers-in-arms

Hero among Heroes

The Polish-Scottish Association made Wojtek an honorary member. “In order to pay homage to the Soldier Bear,” said Krystyna Szumelakowa, of the Wojtek Memorial Trust, “the story of war and friendship will be immortalised with a bronze statue”. The Wojtek Memorial Trust hopes that the life-sized statue will be unveiled in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino. “The statue will be cast in Poland and given to Scottish authorities as a present from Poland,” explained Szumelakowa. Thanks to the efforts of the Trust a special tartan has been created in honour of Wojtek. Deirdre Kinloch Anderson, senior director at Leith-based kilt and Highland dress experts Kinloch Anderson, the designers of the Wojtek tartan, said she was “extremely proud” of helping to design the tartan dedicated to Wojtek. The story of Wojtek was popularised by former soldiers of the Polish II Corps, Wieslaw Lasocki, author of the book, “Wojtek from Monte Cassino – the Story of an Amazing Bear”, published in 1968. Writer Aileen Orr, whose book “Wojtek The Bear – Polish War Hero” was published in 2010, heard the story of Wojtek from her grandfather, a King’s Own Scottish Borderers colour sergeant who met the bear in Egypt and Palestine before he met him again later in Scotland. There is now a plaque dedicated to the legendary bear in Edinburgh Zoo. There are also plaques commemorate Wojtek’s war efforts in the War Museum in London, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and in the Sikorski Insitute in London. In March 2009, the Scottish Parliament organised a reception to honour Wojtek. Every Remembrance Day, Scottish people gather at the Polish Memorial Garden in Edinburgh, many of them with teddy bears, which later are donated to charities for sick children.


The Curious Case of Cacica

August 26, 2013
Land that Time Forgot

Land that Time Forgot

Cacica is one of those magical places that we find in Europe. It lies in an area forgotten by many and is not the easiest place in the world to get to. Cacica lies in Suceava county where the inhabitants speak a cocktail of languages: Romanian, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Slovak and there are also a handful of… Lipovans. Religion-wise, again, it’s a cocktail. Orthodox, Catholics and… Old Believers. Who are the Lipovans? Who are the Old Believers? And there lies the beauty and mystery of this part of the world. It’s one of Europe’s borderlands that have seen a variety of powers come and go. Yet, it remains as magical as before.

Moldoviţa Monastery

Magical Monastery

To the north of Suceava county lies Ukraine, to the west lie the Carpathians and fabled county of Maramureş. Most of the county lies in southern Bukovina, in Moldavia (not to be confused with Moldova). Suceava county lies in Romania. Cacica, and the county in which is lies, is remarkable. 74% of the inhabitants of Cacica are Romanian but over 20% are Polish (with another 4% Ukrainian). The beginnings of Cacica (also known by many of its residents as Kaczyka) date back to the 1780s when the village became famous for salt-mining with many (German) miners coming from the (Polish) town of Bochnia. And thus began Kaczyka’s ties with Poland.

Bochnian Legacy

Bochnian Salt Mine Legacy

With its army of Bochnians, Cacica inherited the Polish tradition of salt mining. Tourists familiar with the mines of southern Poland will notice similarities between Cacica salt mine and the famed mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka. The salt frescoes and sculptures bear a striking resemblance to the ones in Wieliczka. The Polish salt connection does not end there. Not far from Cacica lie the villages of Soloneţu Nou (Nowy Soloniec), Solca (Solka) [Polish sól = salt], Pleşa (Plesza) and Poiana Micului (Pojana Mikuli) with either a large Polish minority or Polish majority.

Old Believer Persecution

Old Believer Persecution

Yet another curiosity is the handful of Lipovans to be found in Bukovina. The Lipovans is the name given to the ethnic Russian Old Believers in Romania, a schismatic sect of the Russian Orthodox church which split from orthodoxy in 1666 (as they wanted to be more orthodox and did not agree with the reforms of Patriarch Nikon). They were persecuted in Russia and many fled. The men do not shave, they cross themselves with two fingers (not three) and do not use polyphonic singing in church but rather chant. Indeed, with its small troop of Lipovans, native Ukrainians and Bochnian Poles, Cacica, Suceava and Bukovina is an odd little corner of the world.


Words of Love – Transexual TNT

June 22, 2013
Polish Tag Cloud

Polish Tag Cloud

I was out and about on the internet the other day looking for new Polish words which might inspire me to new heights of bilingual bliss and was mildly amused by the graphical interpretation that tag frequency clouds often provide. You often get useless alphabetical combinations of words that mean nothing, but every now and again you are afforded an interesting glimpse at the current state of the language. On Słowa na Czasie I found a wonderfully serendipitous lexical marriage: transeksualny trotyl which is a remarkably good summary of Poland’s recent problems. Transeksualny tops the tag frequency list because of the Polish media’s recent fascination with (and perhaps intolerance of) Anna Grodzka, Poland’s first transgender (post-transitioned) member of Parliament as well as all things liberal and non-Catholic. Tolerance and Catholicism have become two very large sticks that various political groups use to beat each other with; largely unsuccessfully and without any hope of conciliation. It is therefore no surprise that transeksualny can be found in the tag cloud of most commonly used Polish words (also równość – ‘equality’ and szmata - ‘slut’) The second word of this lexical combination is trotyl (TNT) which has been frequently used in the Polish news to refer to suggestions that traces of TNT were allegedly found on the ‘Smolensk’ plane in which Lech Kaczyński and a host of other Polish VIPs died when their plane crashed. Smolensk (the word has come to signify a moment in time and a political state of being) has divided Poles into those that want to believe President Kaczyński was murdered (generally allied to Catholicism) and those that believe it was a tragic accident (generally allied to Liberalism). Transeksualny trotyl is work well in summarising the Poland of here and now.


Lost Polish Tribe on Haiti…

June 2, 2013
Polish Legions in Haiti

Polish Legions in Haiti

It’s not something I normally do but the following post has proved to be so popular that I have decided to re-post it. Enjoy.

Perhaps the most intriguing group of people among Poland’s huge diaspora (the so-called Polonia) are the ‘Poles of Haiti’. I heard about this lost little enclave of ‘Polishness’ on radio and began to follow, Theseus-like, the strands of stories that might lead me to some sort of end-point in my search for the truth in the labyrinthine information maze that is the internet. Much to my surprise, I was able to bring together these strands and get some kind of picture of how on earth Poland has managed to touch the culture of Haiti.

Following HIS orders

Bonaparte – Giving The Orders

In 1804, Haiti declared independence from Napoleonic France. Napoleon was having none of it and swiftly sent a force of over 5,200 Polish Legions to stamp his authority on the natives and their lust for independence. The Third Half-Brigade of the Polish Legions were not extremely happy with this state of affairs as the Legions were primarily focused on fighting for Polish freedom in Europe. The idea of (1) fighting against freedom and (2) fighting over eight thousand kilometres away from one’s homeland on the other side of the world seemed both ridiculous and annoying to these soldiers. But soldiers they were, and more importantly, soldiers of Napoleon and they had to follow orders.

Dessalines - Father of Haitian Freedom

Dessalines – Father of Haitian Freedom

The Polish Legions became embroiled in the Haitian Revolution, and most died, although it was not the fighting that killed them but yellow fever. Unaccustomed to the climate and the dangers of life in the Caribbean 4,000 soldiers died of the disease. Those that remained became the stuff of legend, Haitian legend. Miffed off with fighting those who were fighting for freedom (like themselves), the remaining Polish soldiers decided to throw off the yoke of their French masters and joined Jean-Jacques Dessalines in the Haitian struggle for independence living to see a free Haiti. The indigenous peoples were so enamoured by their Polish brothers-in-arms that they included them in the Haitian Constitution of 1805 in which it was stated in Articles 12 and 13 that no white man may hold land on Haiti apart from the Germans (who had a small community there) and the Polanders (Poles).

Erzulie Dantor - Not Matka Boska

Erzulie Dantor – Not Matka Boska

These naturalised Polish Haitians had a great impact on the fledgling Empire of Haiti, later the Republic of Haiti. The Haitians were impressed by the Poles’ great love of their Matka Boska Częstochowska (Our Lady of Częstochowa). They noticed how greatly the legionnaires venerated their icon. Through a process of assimilation and transformation, the Polish Catholic Matka Boska Częstochowska became the Haitian Vodou Erzulie Dantor, a warrior spirit, the protector of women and children, associated also with lesbians, homosexual men and abused women. Interestingly, like Matka Boska Częstochowska, Erzulie Dantor also has scars on the right-side of her face which she got from a fight with her sister when she stole her husband from her. A rather different persona from Matka Boska Częstochowska.

A 'Polish' Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

A ‘Polish’ Haitian (c) Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak

The ties between the two countries do not stop there. In Cazale, 70 kilometres north of Port-au-Prince there lives a community often referred to as blanc, polone. They are, to all intents and purposes, Haitians but due to the fact that the bulk of the Polish legionnaires settled there, the community has forever been referred to as ‘Polish’. If you are from Cazale, you are Polish, it’s as simple as that. Interestingly, there is a high proportion of blue-eyed Haitians here. Another link is Jerzy Grotowski who came to Haiti in search of inspiration in the 1970s. It’s fair to say that his experimental theatre owes a great deal to the spirituality of Haitian Vodou.

Haiti - Not Just Earthquakes

Haiti – Not Just Earthquakes

It is wonderful how two seemingly disparate and distant cultures have common threads weaving them together. On the one hand, we have Napoleon, the Haitian battle for freedom, the Polish legionnaires who joined with the Haitians in their Revolution and all the ramifications of their presence on the island. This includes a strong genetic marker in Cazale and the surrounding area and the warrior spirit of Erzulie Dantor. On the other hand we have Grotowski and his deep love of Haiti and its spirituality. Poland and Haiti – who would have thought…?


Can the Real Poland Step Forward?

May 24, 2013
Social Schizophrenia?

Social Schizophrenia?

There are two events in Poland’s very recent history which in a fashion demonstrate the schizophrenia Polish democracy is suffering from. On the one hand, Poland is this burgeoning new dynamo, bustling with economic energy, pulling up trees and surprising everyone (including itself) with respect to how well it has done in the transmogrification move from a centrally-planned to capitalist economy. But on the other hand, society may have moved forward on but there are still pockets of pig-headedness and idiocy that defy reason. This blind faith in conservatism might be called the “Smolensk Syndrome” but that would be simplistic and not entirely true. This attitude is not the result of the Smolensk air crash. Instead, ‘patriotic’ post-Smolensk sentiments are symptomatic of a very peculiarly Polish state of affairs and at their very core lies the demon of intolerance. On deconstructing this attitude we find an even greater demon, that of ignorance.

Living in the Past?

Living in the Past?

The two events that we are talking about both concern Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s chief opposition party that also suffers from a form of schizophrenia. On the one hand, PiS views are right-wing, family-oriented, Catholic, conservative and nationalist. But on the other, the party espouses not to economic liberalism but more to greater centralisation and, if anything, economic values that are socialist. And at the heart of everything PiS-like is its chief rabble-rouser Jarosław Kaczyński, the evil twin of the late Smolenskified Lech Kaczyński. The first of the two events, that are symptomatic of Poland’s current intolerance/ignorance and the ever-widening cleft on Poland’s political landscape, dates back to 2010 when the wonderfully named Solidarity activist Henryka Krzywonos (Henrietta Bentnose) decided to openly criticise Solidarity trade union members and Jarosław Kaczyński for their lack of culture, solidarity and tolerance. Her attack on the vitriol of these individuals against former fellow Solidarity workers and activists (now members of the liberal classes) was both pertinent and perfectly timed.

It brought home to many how divided Polish society had really become, between the conservatives and the liberals. The demarcation line may run skew-whiff, but can  be loosly drawn along patriotic-religious lines. That is, if you are a follower of the Polish version of the Catholic church, a listener of Radio Maryja then you are on the right side of the barricade (to paraphrase Kaczyński), but if you do not, if you believe in Europe, a secular society and freedom (of speech) for all, then woe betide you.

The second event took place several days ago. Krystyna Pawłowicz, a PiS MP and academic, let loose a litany of ultra-conservative abuse. It was directed at the people attending the Marsz Szmat (pol. Slut March) whose plan it was to protest against sexism and the objectifying of women. Not only was the content of Pawłowicz’s diatribe tasteless (“they should put their disgusting breasts away”… “the streets are public property not a place for deviants and whores”), but it was downright rude.

Try as they might, PiS politicians and spokesmen (not women) were hard pressed to find an excuse for Pawłowicz’s antics. The problem, however, is that Pawłowicz and similar cronies are continually tolerated (and this is not the first time she has let rip). Put Pawłowicz in the mix together with Antoni Macierewicz and Jarosław Kaczyński and you get a truly dangerous, intolerant, concoction. The question is whether this intolerance is down to ignorance or sheer bloodymindedness (or whether this is the same).


Angelina Jolie – Press Stunt

May 14, 2013
A New Image?

A New Image?

I was a little surprised when I heard the news that Madame Jolie had decided to remove her breasts. However, it wasn’t the double whammy mastectomy that I found surprising but rather the fact that Angelina Jolie did not have cancer. Ugh? Huh? What? I followed the news feeds, read the statement and thought “Oh well, each to his (her) own” and thought nothing more of it. I didn’t think it stupid nor did I think it brave. However, my reading of the press feeds and listening of the radio never stops and I was very surprised to hear the opinions of right-wing senator Bolesław Piecha, who I have always found to be a pretty intelligent and sensible bloke (for a PiS politician). Senator Piecha branded Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy a media event. When asked by a TOK FM reporter if he actually meant what he said and if he really thought Angelina Jolie’s operation was a typical celebrity stunt Piecha said “yes”. He then went on to say that Jolie’s mastectomy will mean that Angelina Jolie will not look less sexy as she’ll have breast implants. Senator Piecha went on to say that Angelina Jolie’s ‘stunt’ means that we could head in an extremely dangerous direction. Bolesław Piecha asked the question what would Jolie had done if she had found out that she was at risk of losing her ovaries or uterus. “Would she have cut out her ovaries? Would she have cut out her uterus?” The question really is if Bolesław Piecha really believes Angelina Jolie went as far as a double mastectomy in order to prove a point. Piecha is a gynaecologist so allegedly he knows what he talking about. Allegedly.


Systemic Sex Abuse

May 2, 2013
Stuart Hall - Sex Offender

Stuart Hall – Sex Offender

I feel devastated, disgusted and betrayed. After hearing the news that TV and radio icon Stuart Hall has admitted to assaulting thirteen girls between the ages of nine and seventeen I feel utterly, utterly sick to the very pit of my stomach. I physically wanted to wretch. I feel like vomiting. I’m absolutely stunned by the news. Stuart Hall was an icon to so many of us growing up in the UK in the seventies and eighties. A superb wit, a superlative broadcaster with a superb gift for comedy. I loved the man, as so many of us did back then. To hear that Stuart Hall was an ‘opportunistic predator’ of young girls in many ways destroys my own conception of my younger and teenage years. What icons we had! First Jimmy Savile, a British institution no less, and now Stuart Hall. I feel like a little part of me has been ripped out and spat on.

Jimmy Savile - Sex Offender

Jimmy Savile – Sex Offender

What makes things even worse is the fact that it is not only Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, who seemingly did (ironically) so much for charity, but it is a long list of media stars who join them on the deviant roll call of shame. It now turns out that Hall is the eleventh person who is being investigated under Operation Yewtree which seeks to uncover the nasty truth about all the dark deeds of Jimmy Savile et al. The roll call of shame makes morbid, disturbing reading. Along with the now deceased Savile we find sex offender, seventies glam pop star Gary Glitter, comedian Freddie Starr, radio DJ and icon Dave Lee Travis, comedian Jim Davison and (according to the BBC) entertainer Rolf Harris, who were all arrested as part of Operation Yewtree. Every single one of these people were truly ‘big names’ in my formative years.

Savile - Friend to Prime Ministers?

Savile – Friend to Prime Ministers?

As well as the numerous counts of assault, abuse and rape from this collection of ‘stars’, there are two questions that keep popping into my head. Firstly, how the hell could have this gone unnoticed? Hall is said to have assaulted thirteen girls from 1968 to 1986. Savile seems truly villainous in that there are said to have been 589 victims across four decades. Surely, some of these victims asked for help. Why has it taken so long to bring these ‘stars’ to justice? Why didn’t any one help? Secondly, what part did the BBC play in all this? Operation Yewtree has already seen several prominent BBC employees been arrested (not including the stars, of course).

Savile - Friend to Royalty?

Savile – Friend to Royalty?

So not only have several major British media stars been arrested on charges of assault, abuse and rape but the major British institution itself, the BBC, has a lot to answer for. A shadow has been cast on the reputation of dear old Auntie Beeb that I’m afraid will never go away. Many of us feel demoralised and disgusted but, for me, the feeling of betrayal is the hardest to take. I feel betrayed because as a child I trusted Savile, Hall, Starr, Davidson and Lee Travis. They were on my side, weren’t they? They were with us on TV, at home, over dinner, over tea. We trusted them. We trusted the BBC. And it’s all gone. That past has been mangled, warped and destroyed. I’ll never be able to look back with fondness because I’ll still have a bitter taste in the back of my throat.


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