During the Second World War Polish soldiers of the II Corps bought a young Syrian brown bear cub at a station in Iran.
He was officially made a soldier so that the army would provide him with rations and transportation, eventually he was even promoted to corporal.
The bear followed the unit everywhere, helped move crates of ammunition and became quite famous, to this day.
He looked impressive, can you imagine bumping into a bear in the middle of a battle, who is carrying shells?
But Wojtek saw the Polish soldiers as his parents and he was very friendly and cuddly.
After the war he lived at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, happily ever after.
That much is true.
Wojtek was and is a very popular bear, he has several statues, a memorial trust, books, documentaries, etc.
It is an appealing story, people love talking about it and learning about it, so it is no wonder that the bear regularly shows up all over the internet.
However some people don’t bother doing a bit of research and just use the first picture they find or the one they find the most impressive to illustrate Wojtek’s story with.
Unfortunately that means fake, Photoshopped images of our hero show up that are not only silly, they’re actually offensive.
Here are several examples of such pictures that go around social media all the time, in all these pictures someone has made it seem as if Wojtek, who fought on the allied side, who was on the side of Polish soldiers, was part of a German unit, almost always German Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers).
The pictures make no sense, but you can imagine how insensitive it is to do this to a bear who is much loved by especially the Polish people who are among those who suffered the most during the war.
More about the origin of these pictures later.
So, where do these pictures come from and why would anyone do this to lovely Wojtek?
I found it peculiar that someone had only used photos of Fallschirmjäger, this eventually led me to the source of these photos.
At least some of the Photoshop creations come from a Filmschool graduation film called Bär (2014), by Pascal Floerks.
It’s the story of a bear who fought during the war as a Fallschirmjäger, so the film does not make any connection to Wojtek.
But it does seem that this is where the Photoshop creations come from.
You can see the film here;
So the creator of at least some of these collages is not to blame, it is whoever shared these pictures first with the claim that they show Wojtek that caused all this confusion.
I’ve just seen another WW2 photo being shared with the claim it shows Wojtek, but it is ‘Misha’, a stuffed bear positioned next to the road to Leningrad in a place named Rozhdestveno that became extremely popular among German soldiers to pose with.
Of course seeing Wojtek with Germans should already tell you this couldn’t be Wojtek.
Just to be sure, here are a bunch of photos of Misha, there are hundreds of them.
If you want to share the real story of Wojtek please use some of the real pictures, there are plenty and not that difficult to find.
Just keen an eye out for pictures that show him with German soldiers…
Picture(s) found online, used for (re-)educational purposes only.
I do not own the copyrights to these images, I only share them here for educational purposes to try and make sure the real story behind it becomes known and people will stop spreading false information.
If the copyright owner objects to the sharing here, kindly contact me and I shall alter the article.
If you’re interested in using any of the images here get in touch with the copyright owners mentioned in the article.
Feel free to contact me with questions.