When walking through Jordan Park in Krakow you’ll find many statues of war heroes. Among all of these memorials, there is one that stands out—not because it is not a war hero, but because it is a bear. It depicts a Syrian brown bear named Wojtek who served in the Polish military during the Second World War.
The story of Wojtek the bear is almost like a fairy tale. It begins with a group of Polish soldiers in 1943 who were released from the Soviet Gulags after the Nazis invaded the USSR. Stalin needed whoever he could get and allowed his prior enemies to rejoin the fight against the Axis.
During this trip to freedom, the group stumbled across a lonely bear cub that they decided to adopt. This proved to be a good move as the bear became incredibly good for morale and helped the group through many hardships that way.
Over the years the bear grew up into a fully fledged soldier. He could carry supplies, drank beer, and enjoyed cigarettes. He also enjoyed wrestling soldiers in a good-natured way. The soldiers were very attached to their furry friend, as was Wojtek to them. Because of this, they enlisted the bear into the army as a private, since the army forbade pets at the battlegrounds and it was the only way that Wojtek could come with them. He was so popular he became the mascot of his company, the Polish 22nd Transport Artillery Company.
After the war, Wojtek and his regiment moved to Scotland where they settled down and built up new lives. The men got jobs and houses and Wojtek got a new home at the Edinburgh zoo, where he lived until 1963. The bear was very popular in Scotland and there is even a statue of him there.
In Poland, he is also fondly remembered, and in 2014 this memorial statue of Wojtek was erected in Krakow. The statue was entirely funded by the locals who wished to commemorate the bear and the battles he fought in. The memorial was unveiled on the 70th anniversary of the battle and remains one of the more popular statues in Jordan Park today.
Know Before You Go
The statue is located in Jordan Park in Kraków’s Błonia grasslands. It is accessible 24/7.