Wojtek the Soldier Bear – The story so far

Krakow (Cracow) City Council to vote on historic Wojtek statue decision in Krakow ‘s historic Park Jordana

 

On Wednesday 24th April 2013 Krakow voted to give permission for a statue in Park Jordana and the next day an event was held in Krakow Town Hall with Professor Wojtek Narebski and Professor Norman Davies to publicize this fact.

 

Kazimierz Cholewa, the director of Park Jordana, has prepared a plan of how to proceed.

 

This article summarises the “Wojtek the soldier bear” project as I see it –  the story so far – the mistakes I’ve made the lessons I’ve learned. In an article of this length there will be omissions and mistakes. If someone somewhere feels unfairly treated, or inappropriately described, I am sorry and will make corrections, or publish their commentary.  At the end of the article I will copy paste the “about us” from the Wojtek group on Facebook, as this summarises the objectives that I set out years back.

 

There are some individuals I want to draw attention to who have distinguished themselves through repeated effort and commitment. Dorota Kulawiak and Angela Ricommi in Imola, Italy,  Wioletta Sosnowska in Żagań Poland and Wojtek Narebski in Krakow who have again and again tirelessly led projects, provided support and led initiatives.

 

Aileen Orr’s initiative to build a statue in Scotland inspired me. She has made speeches, written a book, hosted events, travelled, lobbied and fund raised for a statue of Wojtek in Edinburgh, set up the Wojtek Memorial Trust and has done a lot to celebrate Wojtek’s memory.

 

I had some bad experiences during this project: some unpleasant and unfair allegations about my behaviour and motivation. I’d like to thank and recognise the support I received from Edward Lucas, Kamil Tchorek and Michalina Ziemba who all sympathised with the difficulty of dealing with anonymous attacks, and unsubstantiated allegations. I decided not to fight back. If anyone reading this anywhere heard anything bad about what I was doing please give me the opportunity to defend myself, as until today, I never had that opportunity.

 

For the past four years I’ve been running a part time on line global volunteer movement to popularize memories of Wojtek the Soldier Bear. No one to my knowledge ever got paid anything by anybody for their work on these projects.  By doing “Wojtek” projects we make people, young and old, aware of the extraordinary history of:

– The illegal and unjust deportations from Eastern Poland to Siberian labour camps by Soviet Communist authorities

–  the trek from the camps to Iran,

–  the formation of the Anders Army

–  the journey through the Middle East to Italy and on to the UK. In the case of other civilians to camps in Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The idea of statue for Wojtek the Soldier Bear was inspired by Aileen Orr’s initiative in Scotland who set up the “Wojtek Memorial Trust” I heard of her project years ago, researched it, made contact with her, was invited to an event in the Scottish Assembly, made suggestions as to who to invite, and thought “if a statue is possible in the UK, why not in Krakow?”

Early investigations of the possibilities led me to set up the Wojtek the Soldier Bear group on Facebook,  which now has more than 2000 followers all over the world.  As soon as I started talking to people about the statute idea I came across two issues that led me to change direction for a while.

-some people were more interested in using Wojtek as a means of making large amounts of money. I felt and feel that low cost /no cost is far better both because in times of economic stress the last thing we need is extra government spending on something that is not absolutely necessary, and also because the beauty of the Wojtek project is that he and the people he travelled and fought we were motivated by things other than money,

– I was not convinced that a well funded statue project would be the best way to popularize the history, which was more important to me that the statue itself.

I postponed my original idea of a statue, and started supporting and encouraging Wojtek projects all over the world using low cost social media tools. A statue can be a long, complex and expensive process (the one in Scotland is reported in the media of having a budget of GBP250,000).  Schools and other bodies can organise Wojtek related events at low or no cost with significant impact. Because bears are so magically attractive to children, Wojtek represented a great opportunity to get the attention of younger people. Once you have got their attention, through Wojtek, it is inevitable that some start asking and understanding how it came to be that there were hundreds of thousands of Poles in Iran in 1942.  Getting to understand where Wojtek was first found, and came into contact with Poles who had been deported to Soviet camps, and later released once the USSR stopped being an ally of the Nazis.

I stumbled across this when  Number 72 Primary School in Krakow we did a Wojtek themed school fair. I approached the school director, she asked to present to the staff, I did and they all agreed right away to do dedicate their school “festyn” to Wojtek. Through doing this several hundred children, their teachers and parents got to hear about Wojtek and the Anders history. Professor Wojtek Narebski who remembers Wojtek from his time in the Anders Army came to the school too.

Ryszard Antolak a resident of Scotland and school teacher who writes about Iran and Polish history them hosted a visit to Deanburn Primary School at the same time as  the event in the Scottish Parliament organised by Aileen Orr. Ryszard Antolak also wrote about the project here  and other articles about the deportations and history

I was struck by the fact that while the events I was involved in cost effort, the budgetary cost was trivial. I was and am a strong supporter of the TED.com organisation and had seen the famous Derek Sivers talk about starting a movement  Schools organise fairs and events anyway. I realised that if no money was needed it was going to be possible to do something on a large scale.. The fact that I and others working on these projects were volunteers also seemed to make it more feasible to get other people to work for free. I was lucky enough to be able to afford the time and occasional travel costs for myself and others that were sometimes necessary.

Paul Klipp of TEDxKrakow gave me the opportunity to promote the message here . Ewa Spohn –  the curator of TEDxKrakow from 2011 to now, heard my rehearse the talk and gave me feedback  The process by which the project worked and works is by using the power of the internet to

1  find and make contact with people who are organising or want to organise Wojtek projects

2. Offer publicity, support, contacts, and ideas

3. Distribute information about events as examples of good practice both via the Facebook page and through conventional media.

Other notable points about the project are.

 

It is internationalist. Wojtek travelled through the Arab world. Palestine (now Israel), Italy and Scotland, fighting in an army made up of Poles and Jews.  Wojtek never visited Poland. Wojtek projects have happened and can happen anywhere in the world.

It is not just “non profit” but completely for free. No one gets paid anything for being involved. My talk at the first ever TEDxKrakow conference in 2010 was called “Organising a global movement without funding”.   It is important and remarkable for me that this project is done by people who are really committed. If we do get a statue built I want it not to be paid for out of Polish or European taxes but from private funds, and as at low a cost as possible provided it looks OK.  Even the fund raising can be a way to spread awareness.

Even thought people give me a a lot of credit for things that have happened and I have made a significant investment of time, energy, and some money, my role is a small one.  I aimed to be a catalyst and supporter, For every project that happens someone else has to be in charge.  It was not just modesty when I said my role was a small one. It really was.

Many of the projects below would have happened anyway,. I was not the leader or organiser. If what I did was significant it was to spread the idea and show the world that motivated individuals and groups could easily make Wojtek projects happen if they wanted to.

Wojtek Narebski in Krakow, Dorota Kulawiak and Angela Riccomi in Imola Italy and   Wioletta Sosnowska from Zagan Poland organised many events and projects including this  And this and this and this   and many many more. They also translated the Lasocki  book into Italian. These individuals are anything but typical and deserve statues of their own.

Simon Daley, a Scottish Police office made a war memorial in memory of the Poles and Wojtek.

Aleksandra Wójcik wrote an article (maybe more) and helped with translation

Krystyna Ivell organised an exhibition in London in the Sikorski Institute – and gave GBP1000 to the Park Jordana Statue

Strzałka Krzysztof  Polish Consul in Milan, attended events/ exhibitions in Imola and Bologna.

Artur Kula Agata Foryciarz and Agnieszka Giś offered help as pupils from Liceum No 5 in Krakow

Agnieszka Gis  a Polish School girl gave a talk at a high school in Israel  including references to Wojtek

Jonathan Ornstein Director of Krakow’s Jewish Community Centre asked me and Wojtek Narebski to give a talk about the project as part of the Jewish Cultural Festival

My brother the journalist and author Edward Lucas wrote articles about Wojtek for various newspapers including here

Professor Norman Davies willingly agreed to support the project, and came to the event in Krakow Town Hall here

Kazimiera Cholewa Director of Park Jordana agreed to file an application for planning permission fro the Statue, and is pushing ahead with the project

Marusia Bucknall Kowalyszyn gave a talk at an old age people’s home in Australia about Wojtek
Joanna Berdyn – of Wydawnictwa Pointa – published a book by Łukasz Wierzbicki  about Wojtek and organised a competition which resulted in thousands of children doing paintings of Wojtek.

Łukasz Wierzbicki   tells the story of Wojtek to Polish kids every single day. he has about 250 meetings in schools and libraries all over the Poland per year – and also the story was told in Netherlands, Switzerland and Australia He will have two meetings in Polish School and Polish Institute in Rome on May 2013, his book Dziadek i niedźwiadek  published by Pointa in Poland, will be pubished in Italy in September with the title is Nonno e l’orsetto

Vic Baczor  set up a web site about Wojtek

Patryk Polec set up a web site here

Garry Paulin wrote and published a book

Vivian Glenn  and Adam Irski sent me original photos and memories of learning to swim with Wojtek

Will Hood Kat Mansoor and the Animal Monday team made a film, The Bear that Went to War

Raymond  Ross wrote a play called Wojtek the Bear performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Andy Traverse (Szawlugo) set up a web site
Christine Bojen organised the building of a statue in Weelsby Wood near Grimsby With  Anglo-Polish Society (N.E. Lincolnshire)

Mike Levy organisied a play perfomed in Ely and London “Invisible Army” about the Anders Army

Brendan Foley wants to make a film

There are so many activities in Zagan led by Wioletta Sosnowska that merit a separate article. A comic book verified by Wojtek Narebski, illustrated by Anna Kret a school pupils for historical accuracy, events,  a statue and tireless commitment and activity.

Richard lucas 29th April 2013

from the Facebook Wojtek page  “about”

Wojtek the Soldier Bear was a 3 month old Syrian bear cub rescued by Polish soldiers of 22nd Artillery Supply Company during World War II in British occupied Iran (now Iran).

This group on Facebook aims to use Wojtek’s charisma to promote non profit international co-operation between people everywhere, especially in countries where Wojtek lived, visited, or is connected to while raising awareness and promoting his story.

The objectives of this non profit group are to

– Raise awareness of both Wojtek’s history, and the forgotten history of deportations and survival associated with his life.

Encourage viewings of
https://www.facebook.com/WojtekTheBearThatWentToWar

– organise competitions (among children, students and adults) for paintings, drawing. singing and or composing “bear/Wpjtek” songs, statues, writing stories, doing research, interviewing people who knew him and uploading their histories onto the web. Through doing Wojtek projects we want to make people aware of the wider historical context.

– building one or more statues in Cracow or elsewhere in his memory, probably through a competition for the best design.

– support groups in other parts of the world with which there is a link that want to do “Wojtek” related activities

This group is decentralised and as its leader I rely completely on the contributions in terms of actions of those members who want to support its objectives.

Sometimes people post about their books, politics, and animal welfare related topics. I tend not to delete these, but if it is excessive from one person then I reserve the right to form a judgement about.

An interesting feature of this project is how it uses the internet to make things happen with no budget or legal existence. I gave a talk about it here  Hundreds if not thousands of children and dozens of adults have taken part in events

If you want to help its time and energy we need – not cash. in the long run, time is more valuable than money and this project proves it.
just get in touch, or post on the wall what you are doing or want to do

He thought he was a human, lived in a tent, drank beer, ate cigarettes, wrestled with them, went for long walks and loved swimming. He was enrolled as a soldier, travelled to Italy, carried supplies during the battle of Monte Cassino, went with the soldiers to Britain after WWII and ended his days in Edinburgh zoo in Scotland.

if you want to help with this project, fill in this form
http://tinyurl.com/Wojtekform

His story is one of survival against all odds. He was rescued by Poles and Polish Jews who who suffered together and survived Soviet terror, who fought together. he is a symbol of friendship, loyalty, patriotism, the bond between people and an animal, the need to love and be loved

Professor Norman Davies and Anne Applebaum have given their support to our objectives.

Through Wojtek children and others

– become aware of this dark period in human history

– are inspired by the thought that even people suffering terrible adversity can be loving and caring

– Some “Wojtek” countries (Egypt Iran, Iraq, Israeli, Italy Syria, Palestine, and the UK) are bitter enemies at a political level, others are friends. Doing school projects about the bear and his history can help people especially children in those countries discover that they have things in common

Of course any communities anywhere on the planet may have an interest. If you can make something to do with organising an event happen anywhere we will support you.

 

 

Links

Wojtek the Bear to raise awareness of Polish WW II history

http://www2.polskieradio.pl/eo/dokument.aspx?iid=103602

 

Poland’s Panda?

http://www.krakowpost.com/article/1665

www.wojtekthebear.com – the Scottish statue project and Trust

http://wojtek-soldierbear.weebly.com historical site

www.voytekbear.com/polish-people-stories-history.cfm site promoting Wojtek book and with  accounts of people’s war time experiences Social networking sites

         www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=43399319070

http://beatroot.blogspot.com/2008/01/wojtek-bear-polish-war-hero.html

 

 

Artykuly po polsku

 

 

 

 

 

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