An­i­mated film to spot­light WWII ‘soldier bear’

The Star Malaysia - - World -

WAR­SAW: Dur­ing World War II, Wo­j­ciech Nareb­ski and his fel­low Pol­ish ser­vice­men had to lift crate after heavy metal crate of ar­tillery.

For­tu­nately for them, one of the sol­diers had su­per­hu­man strength: Cor­po­ral Wo­jtek, a Syr­ian brown bear.

“When he saw that we were strug­gling, he’d want to help... He’d come over, grab a crate and carry it to the truck,” Nareb­ski, now 93, said of his days with Wo­jtek in the 22nd Ar­tillery Sup­ply Com­pany.

This can be heavy work, even for a bear.

When Wo­jtek got tired, he would sim­ply stack one crate on top of the other, “which also helped us, be­cause we didn’t have to lift the crate off the ground”, re­counted the vet­eran who spent two and a half years with the friendly gi­ant he con­sid­ered a brother.

“Of course he got a re­ward. Honey, mar­malade. That was his favourite.”

Wo­jtek the Bear also liked to drink beer and smoke (or rather eat) cig­a­rettes, take show­ers, snug­gle with his han­dler at night, and wres­tle with his com­rades.

When an op­po­nent lost, Wo­jtek would lick their face in apol­ogy.

“Be­cause he was brought up among peo­ple, he ac­quired hu­man traits. In a bear’s body there was a Pol­ish soul,” said Nareb­ski.

Old pho­tos show the bulky beast – who grew to be over 1.8m tall and weighed about 220kg – giv­ing bear hugs, open­ing his toothy jaw wide for food, and en­joy­ing a day at the beach with smil­ing sol­diers.

The un­be­liev­able true story of the or­phaned cub, which was found by Pol­ish troops in Per­sia and then trav­elled through Iraq, Syria, Pales­tine, Egypt, Italy and Scot­land as a mo­rale-booster, is now be­ing turned into an an­i­mated movie.

British-Pol­ish film­mak­ers hope to re­lease the fam­ily-friendly A Bear Named Wo­jtek in 2020 on the 75th an­niver­sary of Vic­tory in Europe Day.

The film’s British pro­ducer, Iain Har­vey, was scep­ti­cal when Scot­tish an­i­ma­tor Iain Gard­ner first ap­proached him.

“To be hon­est I thought,‘This man has had too many whiskeys’,” Har­vey said, be­fore he re­alised that: “For once the magic is real”.

Wo­jtek was an en­listed soldier, with his own pay­book, ra­tions, and rank – a sta­tus he needed to sail from Egypt to Italy with his com- rades in arms.

There were hun­dreds of non-hu­mans milling about dur­ing the war, ac­cord­ing to wartime Pol­ish refugee Krystyna Ivell, who her­self also had a pet chameleon in Pales­tine.

“The most com­mon cul­tural im­age we have of a bear is that it’s a sav­age an­i­mal,” Gard­ner said.

“Yet in the con­text of the Sec­ond World War, you have to ask,‘Who are the an­i­mals?’.”

— AFP

Bear-ing heavy loads: Wo­jtek stand­ing at a truck car­ry­ing fe­male sol­diers who want to pet him in Pales­tine in 1943. Later, Wo­jtek is seen car­ry­ing a tree trunk in Cas­tro­caro, Italy on March 22, 1945.

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