Wojtek, the Polish
by Robert Strybel
All Poles and many Pol-Ams know about General Anders’ Second Corps that left the “Inhuman Land” (USSR), traveled through Persia (Iran),
Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, captured the Nazi fortress at Monte Cassino, helped liberate Bologna and Ancona in Italy and finally ended up in the British Isles. But not too many in Poland and fewer yet in Polonia
have ever heard about Wojtek the Bear who accompanied them along the entire route. He was even said to have supplied Polish troops with ammunition during the Battle of Monte Cassino.
It all began in the hills around the town of Hamadan, Persia, where Polish soldiers encountered a scrawny, famished little Persian boy holding a sack with
something moving inside. He eagerly sold the little bear cub for two tins of Spam-like meat, and the Second Corps’ 22nd Artillery Supply Company had itself a mascot which it called Wojtek (VOY-tek).
The boy said the cub’s mother had been shot, when he was still blind, so Wojtek probably had not ever seen another bear and was
to go through life thinking he was human. The soldiers stuck a rag nipple onto a vodka bottle and fed Wojtek diluted canned condensed milk. But bears grow up fast. Within a year he was the size of a St. Bernard
dog, and eventually he would be six feet tall and weigh in at 550 pounds.