The Wojtek Night Thread (5/26/22)

Wojtek (pronounced “VOY-tek”) was a Syrian brown bear found by Polish soldiers as an orphaned cub in Iran during WWII. The soldiers — many of whom were themselves freed POWs uncertain of the fate of their families and friends back home — adopted Wojtek, and he traveled with them for two years until they ran into difficulties convincing Egyptian officials to allow Wojtek to sail with them to Italy. To get around what company records refer to as the port authority “being difficult about the bear,” they did the only sensible thing: They made Wojtek a private, paying the bear in double rations.

Private Wojtek perhaps did not have the healthiest upbringing, drinking coffee and beer with his fellow soldiers and eating sweets and cigarettes —

— but he remained a beloved member of the corps and was promoted to the rank of corporal for his work carrying ammunition at the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. The 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps even changed their insignia to honor Wojtek.

When the war ended, Wojtek went to live on a farm in Scotland before being relocated to the Edinburgh Zoo, as his former soldiers-in-arms were disbanding to new lives and feared taking Wojtek to Poland while Poland was under Soviet rule. In their agreement with the Edinburgh Zoo, they requested that Wojtek be sent to Poland should Poland ever regain its independence. Sadly, Wojtek died at the age of 21 in 1962 or 1963, long before that happened. He is memorialized in multiple statues in both Scotland and Poland.

Wojciech Narębski, a Polish geologist who served with Wojtek, reflected, “The fate of Wojtek was very similar to that of many Polish soldiers. Many of our soldiers had also lost everyone; they were orphans, so our bear was an orphan among orphans. Maybe that’s why we got on with him so well?”

An animated film called A Bear Named Wojtek, co-produced by Polish and Scottish filmmakers, is to be released this fall.

Have a great Night Thread, Avocados! Please don’t eat the cigarettes!