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.


Who actually Won the War?

May 27, 2009

GERMAN Nazis

GERMAN Nazis

The events of the last few days have led me to ask the question: “Who actually won World War II?” Noises from the political elite in Germany and an even greater hoohah in Poland have got me thinking about two issues: (1) the necessity for Germany to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the slaughter of so many innocent lives in World War II, and (2) the growing rise of negationism, or rather historical relativism.

German Revisionism
The surprising news that has come out of Germany is that the two political powerhouses, the CDU and CSU, have called for the European Parliament to back a decision to condemn all forms of forced
repatriation. Without such a joint EU declaration, Germany has intimated that it will not agree to further expansion of the European Union. This is all well and good and indeed forced repatriating should be condemned but this issue deflects away from the causes of the last forced exodus in Europe. As we all know, the forced repatriation of millions of European citizens was a direct result of the Nazi attack on Poland in 1945. The CDU and CSU have also added that all laws and rights violated through repatriation need to be reversed. This appears to be a call to give compensation to those Germans who were forced out of Poland after the war, a war the Germans began!

Polish Oversensitiveness
This has caused an almighty explosion of outrage in Poland. The first to respond to Germany’s call was Jarosław Kaczyński who has called upon PM Donald Tusk for his Civic Platform (PO) to leave the the European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) political group, the group to which both PO and the CDU and CSU belong in a mark of protest against this German revisionism. He has also called the PO “weak” in the face of German brute force and expansionism. Germany has also stated that it wishes the German language to be stronger within the EU. There’s no getting away from the fact that Jarosław Kaczyński made these statements for political gain but he’s not all that wrong about Germany trying to deflect away from the cause of Europe’s most recent forced bout of repatriations.

European Problems
Yes, Poland is oversensitive. But wouldn’t you be a little touchy if you had experienced what the inhabitants of Poland experienced during the war. Not only was Poland’s Jewish population wiped out but its other citizens also faced humiliation, torture and death at the hands of the German Nazis. Any calls for a re-evaluation of the facts will unsurprisingly cause a stir. Two things need to happen for Europe to take a good look at itself and grow up. Firstly, not only Germany and Poland but ALL of the EU’s member states need to sit down and talk, not only at the ministerial level but at the level of local communities to see how these issues still affect us all today. Secondly, Europe needs to learn the true meaning of solidarity and the meaning of ‘being European’, whatever that means.


Historical Retribution?

December 11, 2007

YaltaThe Yalta Conference really did create more problems than the Big Three could have ever imagined (see previous post). In fact, we’re still picking up the pieces of a shattered Europe today. Politically, we may be uniting and drawing closer to each other but culturally and (especially) historically there are still many matters and events that divide the Old Continent.

Historical Identity
History is the receptacle of all knowledge that comes to form a group identity. But what if that group wishes to change its identity? Then it changes its history or at least attempts to change history. Commentators, historians and sociologists are both concerned and fascinated with Erika Steinbach‘s fervent claims for a Centre for Expulsions to be built in Berlin commemorating the Germans who were removed from their homes and made to re-settle west of the Odra River.

Historical Context
Nobody claims that these people should not be remembered. The problem is that there is a peculiar lack of perspective, proportion and dignity in the whole affair. Steinbach, much to the annoyance of (literally) millions of Poles as well as many other nationalities in this region fails to see the fact that the Poles also suffered through forced evictions from their homes in the former Eastern Territories. In fact, many historians claim that the ‘eastern’ expulsions were more terrifying, brutal and often more bloody than the western ones (although this is besides the point). What is particular painful for Polish people is the fact that the Poles – not the Germans – were the primary victims of the war (as it was the German Army which invaded Poland and not the other way around).

History Revisionism
Steinbach is set on re-writing history, or rather playing with historical relativism. Her argument is that these German expellees should also be remembered and she has spent many years playing the ‘poor German expellee’ card which of course has endeared her to many people. At the same time, her failure to commemorate the millions that suffered east of the Odra is indicative of her stance on the matter.

Historical Relativism
Historical relativism is the key term here. One cannot simply ‘leave out’ important chapters of history in order to discuss another. Officials have been imploring Steinbach to create a Centre for Expulsions that would commemorate all the peoples of Europe who were forced to leave their homes. There is a long history of expulsions and forced migrations in European history which includes mosts of the continent’s nations as well as the Jews of Ashkenaz. By focusing on the German ‘problem’ and German suffering Steinbach is conveniently avoiding the majority of Europe’s post-war expellees who were predominantly Polish.

Historical Problem
Furthermore, the idea of building the centre in Berlin is more than just a little comical. Why not Wrocław or Gdańsk? In the context of history, the centre is a stark example of arrogant manipulation. In light of German-Polish relations, the centre is damaging. In the face of European unification and cooperation the centre is simply an abomination.