Voytek The Polish Army Bear

1 comment January 29th, 2008at 08:24pm Posted by Eli

voytek.jpg

I swear I am not making this up:

History is filled with unsung heroes of war. Among the hairiest and perhaps heaviest is Voytek, (Wojtek), the courageous, beer-guzzling, chain-smoking brown bear of Poland’s 22nd Transport Company….

Born in Iran in about 1942, Voytek’s story reads like a myth. He reportedly marched on his hind legs in time with the troops, fought along side them at the battle of Monte Cassino, and liked to smoke and drink. “There are people I’ve spoken to who have never heard of Voytek at all and see the story as some sort of myth,” says Garry Paulin, who has written a book about Voytek. “I think it’s important that people know the facts about Voytek, that’s why I’ve aimed the book at children as well.”

By numerous accounts Voytek was acquired as a cub by the Polish Army in the mountains of Hamadan from a young boy carrying him around in a sack. The troops, many of whom had just been released from Siberian work camps, became enamored of the honey-colored bear. They fed him milk out of an old vodka bottle, reared him and treated him not as pet, but as a fellow soldier as they made their way across the Middle East to the Lebanese front.

His shining moment came in April 1944 during the battle of Monte Cassino. One of the final hold-outs of the Axis, the sixth-century abbey atop an Apennine peak had proven impregnable to allied forces. Polish forces were sent in along with Voytek’s troop, and a bloody siege ensued.

The 22nd Transport Company was charged with moving supplies up and down the mountainside. During the battle, Voytek is said to have walked up to his commanding officer and put out his paws. The officer handed him a “heavy box and watched in wonder as Voytek loaded it effortlessly onto the truck. Backwards and forwards he continued, time and time again, carrying heavy shells, artillery boxes and food sacks from truck to truck, from one waiting man to another.” The monastery was taken at last and Voytek became the symbol of the 22nd Company. It even made an emblem in his likeness.

(…)

Voytek died in December 1963. Since then his story has been drifting through the pages of historic lore like a wandering bear, heard but unconfirmed. Despite extensive documentation, photographs and even a few sculptures, most people have never heard of Voytek, or regard him as a myth. But Scottish campaigner Aileen Orr, along with others, wants to change that by erecting a memorial. As she told the BBC: “The story is totally amazing.”

Incredible. Who among us does not love bears?

Entry Filed under: Coolness,War,Weirdness

1 Comment

  • 1. Andy Szawlugo  |  February 7th, 2009 at 9:19 am

    The stories are true. My father took care of Wojtek for four years. Go go http://www.wojtekthebear.com and see for yourself. Myfather is features in seven pics.


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