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Wojtek the Bear: Polish War Hero

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  206 ratings  ·  37 reviews
This is the inspiring true story of one of the Second World War’s most unusual combatants—a 500-pound cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking brown bear. Originally adopted as a mascot by the Polish Army in Iran, Wojtek soon took on a more practical role, carrying heavy mortar rounds for the troops and going on to play his part as a fully enlisted ‘soldier’ with his own rank and ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Birlinn Ltd
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Igor Ljubuncic
May 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: ww-2, history, aileen-orr
Okay ... a soldier bear, who smokes and drinks and fights alongside Polish troops at Monte Cassino.

Not a joke, a true story. For realz.

This book has two parts.

The first half is dedicated to Wojtek, who he was and how he came to be the mascot, his journey in the Middle East and Italy, his escapades, then his life in Scotland after the war, and then in the Edinburgh Zoo. Really amazing, touching, interesting, wild, mad, sweet, sad, cool, lovely jubbly.

The second part is more about modern times,
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book both heart-warming and heart-breaking.

Heart-warming because of the very real affection with which Orr approaches her subject: Wojtek's story has obviously touched her heart. And also due to the love and humanity that a little bear cub (and later a not-so-little full-grown bear) brought to a group of Polish soldiers, taken to Stalin's labour camps, released due to political expedience, but their country lost and the fate of their families unknown, though probably not pleasant. It would
Reading as I do on various wars and battles of interest to me and while keeping the larger event in front of me. I came across a story of the Polish Army Service Corps that fought during the Battle of Monte Cassino among many other battles during the Second World War. Specifically, the Battle of Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line in Italy are among my all-time favorites of the war in Europe in which to read, study, learn, and devour. It was during one of my past readings on this battle that I ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellent look at a piece of history that may have been forgotten had this author, as well as others, not doggedly held on to it. I learned many things about the history of the times, and not just the Second World War. I find it fascinating as an Australian to read about other countries, because so much of our taught history focuses only on our own involvement. Many things about Poland and the history of the area are clearer now.

Of course there was Wojtek himself! He was obviously a
Shane Moore
Nov 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
The experiences of the Polish soldiers in World War II, fighting under British auspices, were almost wholly unknown to me before I read this book. I was hoping for amusing stories about a bear, and was surprised to read a detailed account of the struggles of the dispossessed men of the Polish army. They were relocated to Britain during and after the war and many resettled there after the war. Many of these soldiers were illiterate in Polish, and never learned exactly what happened to their ...more
Aug 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
We were in the gift shop at Edinburgh zoo. I saw this paperback and bought it as a gift for my dad who loves reading about World War 2. We caught the bus back to our digs and I started reading it, (as it turns out, pretty much anything is better than 'The Finkler Question' that I was part of the way through and that was my 'read-de-jour'). It was very readable, and the story, especially if you know nothing about it, is very interesting.

I then took a break from it and read a novel and finally
Jonathon Dyer
Aug 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
The remarkable story of an army unit mascot - a Eurasian bear - who grew to think he was a soldier, was inducted as a private into the Free Polish Army, and went on to distinguish himself fighting alongside his artillery-company comrades in the pivotal Battle of Monte Casino in Italy, 1944 - a turning point in the road to allied victory in Europe. Wojtek (pronounced Voy-chek) went on to be demobbed in Scotland and spent his final years in Edinburgh Zoo.

The author Aileen Orr has rescued the
Juliet Wilson
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This entertaining, informative and moving book follows Wojtek from his initial rescue in Iran, through his life in the Polish army during the 2nd World War and in a camp in the Scottish Borders to his last years in Edinburgh Zoo (where one of his keepers was Crafty Green Boyfriend's Dad!) Wojtek truly was a hero, he helped carry supplies, caught a spy and was a huge morale boost for the troops. He loved swimming, making friends, dancing at local dances in the Scottish Borders and eating. He ...more
Lisa Rowles
Jan 18, 2011 rated it liked it
I found this book very interesting albeit slightly sad as it not only told the story of Wojtek the bear in an unsentimental but not unfriendly way, it also recounted an otherwise unknown (to me at any rate) historical links between Poland and Scotland which were forged long before the Second World War. It explained the large presence of Polish refugees in parts of England long before the accession of Poland to the EU - and yes, it does discuss the Katyn massacre as part of the contextual ...more
Derek Allard
Nov 12, 2014 rated it liked it
It's not the best written book you'll ever read (and the last part is far too much about the author and her attempts to build a memorial, which I didn't find all that relevant to the wider story) but it does get across the story of Wojtek, which alone is worth the price of admission here.
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Amazing quite frankly. The true story of a Syrian Brown Bear who became a war hero and symbol of home for thousands of Polish soldiers. If this doesn't become a film soon I shall be most annoyed!
Anna Paluszkiewicz
Sep 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
It is a fascinating story! Sad, but you will learn a lot about history of Britain, Poland and generally about WWII. (I hope my granddad met Wojtek somewhere on Monte Casino).
Jun 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic story of one of World War 2s strangest war "heroes", Wojtek the Soldier Bear who lived with a Polish battalion and aided his comrades at Monte Casino.
Marc Pearce
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wow, what an excellent story! It was cute, funny, sad, and action packed. There's a little something there to appeal to a variety of readers, old or young. It would make a great "family" viewing type of film, if there was a studio that would take up such a project. The subject was obviously close to the writer's heart, and that manifested into this written labor of love. Just a great narrative, painted with such illustrative word pictures, that I could really sense the tension of the battles ...more
Diane Lybbert
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
During WWII Polish soldiers 'adopted' a bear cub in the Middle East, and soon he became just one of the guys. Domesticated from an early age, he learned to follow the men and mimic what they would do. He even helped carry heavy ordinance to the cannons! When the men were going to be shipped out to Scotland, they arranged to have the bear (named Wojtek) given official military papers so he could board the ship with them and receive rations. The Poles continued fighting side-by-side with the ...more
Annmarie Millar
Aww, what a wonderful, heartfelt story. Of a bear cub Wojtek, who is bought by soldiers on a convey through Persia. A bear who ends up being a symbol of love and friendship. This story is so moving and stirs up emotion, those poor Polish people and these soldiers who lost everything, their loved ones, their homes, their country in the turmoil of war, but this bear kept their moral and spirits up. The strength of the human spirit really is amazing! Fantastic read, while being sad they are some ...more
Eric Grounds
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the true story of an Afghan bear which served with Polish soldiers during WWII. It was more human than bear and volunteered to move ammunition during the battle of Monte Cassino. For a while it lived on the Scottish Borders while the Poles were housed in a DP camp near Berwick upon Tweed, but ultimately it spent the final years of its life in Edinburgh Zoo. I started reading it when I got on the train at Berwick and finished it before I got to Peterborough!
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
I would give it 2 1/2 if I could. Wojtek is a character I can’t wait to hear/read more about. However, Aileen Orr should not be the one to tell the story. She was incredibly impersonal and did not elaborate on the life Wojtek. She used this book to push her political agenda. I want to know why Wojtek is a war hero. Looks like I will have to do my own research to fill in the gaps.
Edward Sullivan
The true story of an Asian brown bear adopted as orphaned cub by soldiers in Iran and became not just a mascot, but a full-fledged member of a Polish army unit that served in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Italy in World War II.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Only about half of the book was about Wojtek. The rest of it was Polish history.
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2019
An unexpected delight, detailed, with a lot of love and surprisingly interesting history tying Poland and Scotland together.
Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it

Soldier Bear by Aileen Orr is about a young and wise bear that is found in the middle of a forest in the Middle East by soldiers. His “mother” Piotr (who found him first), named him Wojtek. In polish, Wojtek means soldier as they were living during a war. After years of living with humans, Wojtek soon developed to be as humanly as a bear could ever be. Instead of walking on 4 legs, he walked on 2 and instead of eating bear food and sleeping outside, Wojtek ate burgers and sandwiches
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book was a gift and I'm not sure I would have read it otherwise, to be honest. I found the historical parts interesting enough, but I found the writing voice rather gratingly over-enthusiastic and self-consciously elaborate...perhaps this padding was needed in order to flesh out what would have been a perfectly good extended magazine piece or essay, into a slightly shaky full paperback. Even with the extended epilogue of historical context written by someone with a drier yet less irksome ...more
Feb 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Wojtek the Bear – Polish War Hero by Aileen Orr is an endearing true story of a Syrian bear in the Persian mountains that in April 1942 joined a Polish contingent of soldiers on their way to Palestine. The soldiers had stopped in the Zagros Mountains for a meal break and were joined by a hungry local boy with a sack around his neck. The soldiers shared their food with the boy and took a peak in the sack.

To read my review go to my blog:
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 60% or so of the book is an amazing true story about this bear who saw active service during World War 2. He had been weaned and raised by the soldiers who saved from an almost certain horrendous life as a dancing bear and he clearly thought he was human. This story is wonderful - but heartbreaking as well as heartwarming at times. Not only does this tell Wojtek's story but also relays the fates of the wonderful Polish soldiers who could not be repatriated immediately, and in some ...more
Simone Ramone
Nov 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read the section where they have to commit him to Edinburgh zoo before I began the books I that I wouldn't fall apart.
This is an astonishing story and it's told in a happy way overall. I had no idea of the strength of connection between Scotland and Poland before reading this, and I found myself reading slabs out loud to anyone who cared to listen, which is always a good sign.

I liked it so much I bought a paper copy.
Vale Woytek!
Maciek Białous
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
The story of Wojtek is both interesting and entertaining, I appreciate author's effort to commemorate the polish bear in a book as well as in a form of monument. Nevertheless, the book has it weak sides, especially when author writes about history of polish soldiers and polish people at large. It's not convincing. Even the vast epilogue by Neil Ascherson, which was meant as historical appendix, is full of simplicities and several major errors which can be quite irritating.
Oct 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fantastic book about an amazing friendship between a brown bear and the Polish men who raised and cared for him. Very moving and very informative; the end of the book contains an outstanding history of Poland and the Poles involvement in World War II. I recommend this book highly for anyone looking into an unusual story of the war.
Joanna Czechowska
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
What an interesting story. I'd heard about Wojtek the bear previously but didn't know the details. This book makes you really fall in love with him and his story. I met the author Aileen Orr when I was in Edinburgh and heard about how they hoping to put up a statue to Wojtek in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. I wish them all the luck
Zuzu Burford
May 17, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting little book. Repetitious at times thoughout. The Epilogue I found much more interesting than the story of Wojtek. The story was more about the exiled Polish army during WW11 with Wojtek going along for the ride. Still I enjoyed the read.
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A song in memory of Wojtek 1 1 Aug 30, 2017 04:54AM  

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Aileen Orr was born and raised in Lockerbie before going on to study at the London School of Economics. After working for the Bank of America she joined and headed a new political team as regional director of the Countryside Alliance. She is now an advisor to Michael Russell MSP.
“To be defeated, but not to give in, is victory.

- Jósef Piłsudski”
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