Wojtek the Bear: A Real Polish, World War II Furry Soldier

A seemingly improbable story of a bear named Wojtek that fought with Polish soldiers in World War II has been shared online for years.

Published June 2, 2023

 ( Getty Images stock illustration)
Image Via Getty Images stock illustration

Wojtek the bear's incredible story over the years not only gained the attention of journalists and social media users, but numerous monuments were erected in Poland and other countries to commemorate him. How could an actual bear serve in an army during World War II?

TIL in WWII there was a bear named Voytek fighting for Poland. He would carry ammunition to the front lines and helped recapture Italy for the Allies.
by u/PapaCheech in todayilearned

Wojtek was a Syrian brown bear adopted by Polish soldiers of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company in the 2nd Polish Corps commanded by Gen. Władysław Anders. The bear took part in the famous Battle of Monte Cassino, carrying boxes with ammunition and pulling a supply cart. He was even promoted to corporal for his services to the Polish Army. 

The animal enjoyed indulging in fruit, sweet syrups, marmalade, and honey as rewards for good behavior. He would dine and sleep alongside the soldiers in their tent. As he matured, he was provided with his own bedroom in a large wooden container, but he preferred the company of his human comrades and would often sneak out at night to snuggle with them. He was a friendly creature with a deep trust in people, and became not only a mascot, but a real hero.

Rumors also surfaced that Wojtek smoked cigarettes and drank beer, and numerous sources have generally confirmed it, including direct relations of soldiers who worked with the bear personally. Such information was also mentioned in a documentary published by TVP Kultura (Polish National TV Culture channel) and the Ministry of Education in Poland, which included the curiosity in historical-educational materials. We should note that while it's highly possible the bear, being surrounded by soldiers who regularly smoked cigarettes, could have eaten one or drank some beer, it is unlikely he actually smoked cigarettes. 

Soldiers remember Wojtek fondly for his love of riding in military trucks and wrestling with his human friends. One notable story about Wojtek involves him helping fellow soldiers carry heavy crates of artillery ammunition during the operations at Monte Cassino without ever dropping them. His act of bravery and strength finally inspired the 22nd Company to adopt a bear with a shell in its paws as their symbol, which was then displayed on military vehicles, pennants, and uniforms.

After World War II, Wojtek was relocated to the Edinburgh Zoo, where he lived for 16 years before dying in 1963. Although his story seems improbable, it's yet another example of one of the most heroic animals in modern human history. 


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Aleksandra Wrona is a reporting fellow for Snopes, based in the Warsaw area.