July 25, 2012


Animals have figured prominently as instruments of warfare dating as far back as 2,500 B.C. Proof of this can be seen in ancient Sumerian art illustrating war scenes in which teams of horses appear to be pulling wagons. By 1,600 B.C. and with the development of harnesses and bridles, chariot warfare became common in the Ancient East, a region which today is the Middle East. During the Second Punic War in 218 B.C, Hannibal used elephants which had been trained to serve as mounts and to transport heavy equipment. These animals were highly valued, and were even used by Japanese and Allied troops during WW2.

Throughout history there has been a virtual menagerie of animals used either as auxiliary military units, or sacrificed as a sort of "weapons delivery system". During WW2 the Russians used dogs strapped with explosives to attack enemy troops. The United States even tested "Bat Bombs", that is, little bats strapped with tiny incendiary devices which were rigged to explode at a given time. The idea was actually tested in the U.S. but was deemed unfeasible and therefore scrapped. Many animal species have been an integral part of military battles throughout the ages, and most of them were considered dispensable, with the exception of horses of course.

No doubt there have been more than a few famous horses who became war heroes, most notably Sergeant Reckless, a Mongolian mare, who served with the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. A special edition of Life Magazine in 1997, featured her name among the top 100 American heroes of all time, among the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, to name a few.

But the most famous of all warrior animals is one which served during World War II - a Syrian brown bear who became a hero and international celebrity. He was adopted by the 2nd Polish Corps when he was just a cub, and was given the name Wojtek. Eventually he was enlisted into the Polish army, and given the rank of Private.

This is Wojtek's story.

Wojtek as a cub doted upon by Polish soldiers
Wojtek as a cub doted upon by Polish soldiers

WW2 Iran bear cub Wojtek plays with Polish soldierIn 1942 near Hamadan, in northwestern Iran, a local boy found an orphaned bear cub wandering alone in the Alborz Mountains. It is not certain what happened to his mother.It is possible that some hunters had shot her. The young lad brought the furry little cub, barely a year old, to a nearby Polish army base, to trade him for a couple of tins of meat. The Polish soldiers were overjoyed to receive him and named the bear cub, Wojtek, which in Polish means, Smiling Warrior. Since Wojtek was still too young to eat solid food, he was fed milk from an empty vodka bottle, and as he grew was fed a rich diet of fruit, marmelades, honey, and syrup. The Polish soldiers treated Wojtek like one of the boys, and enjoyed wrestling with him whenever time permitted. Eventually Wojtek was treated with rewards such as beer and cigarettes (the latter of which he merely swallowed). He even learned to greet his army buddies with a military salute! Wojtek's mere presence, his cleverness, and his playfulness boosted the morale of the entire unit.

WW2 Private Wojtek the bear plays with Polish soldier

Private Wojtek boarding ship

Wherever the Polish army was dispatched, Wojtek travelled with them - to Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Amid a convoy of 120 trucks, one truck was always reserved just for Wojtek who often travelled in a specially constructed crate. However on April 14, 1944, while the Polish soldiers were getting ready to board a ship headed to Naples (to join the British 8th Army fighting in the Battle of Monte Cassino) they were confronted with an unexpected bureaucratic glitch. The port officials in Alexandria, Egypt refused to allow Wojtek on board, citing that wild animals were prohibited and that only soldiers were permitted aboard.  After some quick thinking and persuasive arguments, the Polish unit succeeded in acquiring the necessary documentation from Cairo headquarters authorizing Wojtek to join the Polish Army and thus accompany them aboard. In addition to a rank and service number, Private Wojtek even had a pay book! By 1944, Wojtek reached full maturity, standing at 1.82 meters in height ( 6 feet) and weighing 220 kilograms (485 pounds). Private Wojtek was not merely a beloved mascot but a genuine working soldier in the Polish Army. It was evident that Wojtek actually thought himself as human!

WW2 Private Wojtek in Jeep - Polish Army 2nd Polish Corp
Private Wojtek in army jeep
WW2 2nd Polish Corps - Polish soldier wrestling with Private Wojtek
Wrestling with Private Wojtek

During the Battle of Monte Cassino, Private Wojtek was put to work helping to load 6.5" artillery shells onto trucks to be delivered to the Polish troops in the field. His contributions did not go unnoticed. Headquarters created an official emblem for the 22nd Transport Company of the 2nd Polish Corps, depicting the graphic image of a bear carrying an artillery shell. Such an emblem was a rare homage rarely, if ever, extended to any man. The Polish participation in the Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most tragic during WW2. Fighting was fierce and deadly. Thousands of Polish soldiers were killed in battle. Private Wojtek survived it. At the end of WW2, Polish army units, including the 22nd Artillery Supply Company were sent to the UK where eventually they were disbanded.Very few Poles returned to their beloved homeland, which became occupied by the communist regime. Instead they opted to remain in England, or dispersed throughout the world - to the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere.

After years of enjoying his freedom, and sharing a unique camaraderie with his army buddies, Wojtek's service to the Polish Army came to an end, and he faced the remainder of his life confined in the Edinburgh Zoo. Though parting from his beloved army buddies was a sad moment, it did not mark the end of what was a lifetime friendship. Many of the Polish soldiers visited Wojtek whenever they could and their mere presence, and the sound of Polish being spoken, did much to perk up Wojtek's mood. One Polish soldier even jumped the fence to greet Wojtek and play with him. Wojtek's fame spread far and wide and he became an instant celebrity appearing as a regular guest on the BBC children's program, "Blue Peter". In December of 1963, Wojtek died at the age of 22. There are several memorials honoring Wojtek, a truly remarkable bear and courageous soldier - plaques at the Edinburgh Zoo, at the Imperial War Museum, and at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. There is even a sculpture created by artist David Harding which is on display at the Sikorski Museum in London and a carved wooden sculpture on display at Weelsby Woods in Grimbsy. Wojtek has never been forgotten and is remembered with pride and affection. In an interview with Scotsman.com in 2008, Polish veteran Augustyn Karolewski described Wojtek as a playful and gentle creature:

 "He was like a big dog - no one was scared of him." 

In March 2009, the Scottish Parliament organized a reception to honour Wojtek. And every Remembrance Day, Scottish people gather in the Polish Memorial Garden in Redbraes (a burrough of Bonnington, near Leith in Edinburgh). Many of them carry teddy bears (later donated to charities for sick children.)

Remember Wojtek.

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July 15, 2012


Great men and women throughout history are remembered for their magnificent oratory, probably much more so than for their valiant, or infamous deeds. Quotations have always captured our attention and fascination. They exquisitely encapsulate in a few words the scope of human understanding, thoughts and ideas and is a skill that is almost tantamount to wizardry. Who among us does not instantly recognize the following quotations, words which will endure for posterity.  Neither shall we forget their names for they have been written into our collective consciousness.

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall never surrender.

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.

Be not afraid.

These are inspiring words but there remain a treasure chest of many other great quotations which have yet to capture our attention. The following are a collection of Polish quotations which I have gathered laboriously from countless sources, from famous writers, musicians, and film makers. I would have included many more, but unfortunately many quotes have not been translated to English. These quotations serve to inspire, amaze, educate, liberate, and sometimes, even amuse. The best quotations, I believe, are those which captured the sentiments of a nation in one moment of history, and thus preserved it for all time. Quotations are the signposts of our society - the good ones inspire us to become better than ourselves, while the bad ones alert us to danger, or alas, lead us astray. In any event quotations invite us to delve deeper to explore its meaning, and to understand its past. That is the mission.

Marshal Jozef Pilsudski - Famous Polish Quotation

To be defeated and not submit, is victory;
to be victorious and rest on one's laurels, is defeat.
Jozef Pilsudski

Leopold Okulicki - Famous Polish Quotation

 In comparison with the NKVD,
the Gestapo methods
are child's play.  
 Leopold Okulicki

Irena Sendler - Famous Polish Quotation

Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.          Irena Sendler

Karol Wojtyla - Pope John Paul II - Famous Polish Quotation

Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.
  Pope John Paul II

I belong to a nation which over the past centuries has experienced many hardships and reverses. The world reacted with silence or with mere sympathy when Polish frontiers were crossed by invading armies and the sovereign state had to succumb to brutal force.
 Lech Walesa


Zbigniew BrzezinskiBut if Russia is to be part of this larger zone of peace it cannot bring into it its imperial baggage. It cannot bring into it a policy of genocide against the Chechens, and cannot kill journalists, and it cannot repress the mass media.       Zbigniew Brzezinski

Polish General Kazimierz Sosnkowski Warsaw is not waiting for empty words of praise, for expressions of recognition, not for assurances of sympathy. Warsaw is waiting … Warsaw is waiting … for weapons and ammunition.  
  General Kazimierz Sosnkowski

Polish General Stanislaw Maczek

Polish soldiers fight 
for freedom
of other nations 
but dies only
 for Poland. 
General Stanislaw Maczek 

Comrades, I took the red tram of socialism to the stop named Independence, but that's where I got off.
Jozef Pilsudski

This homage has been rendered not to me - for the Polish soil is fertile and does not lack better writers than me - but to the Polish achievement, the Polish genius.         
Henryk Sienkiewicz 


Marek Belka - Famous Polish QuotationThe Holocaust committed by the Nazis turned this country, where most of the European Jews used to live and where their culture used to flourish, into a massive grave. This is why initiatives to revive Jewish culture in Poland is so important.
  Marek Belka


Ludzi coraz więcej, a człowieka coraz mniej -  

There is more and more people in the world, but less and less humanity.
          Edward Stachura


It has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved, but here is the proof of her life and triumph. 
 Henryk Sienkiewicz

Bronislaw Geremek

It is often said that Poland is a country where there is anti-semitism and no Jews, which is pathology in its purest state.  Bronislaw Geremek

May God permit us both
to return to a free 
and independent
General Wladyslaw Anders

Jan Karski - Famous Polish Quotations

But I am a Christian Jew. I am a practicing Catholic. Although I am not a heretic, still my faith tells me the second original sin has been committed by humanity: through commission, or omission, or self-imposed ignorance, or insensitivity, or self-interest, or hypocrisy, or heartless rationalization....This sin will haunt humanity to the end of time. It does haunt me. And I want it to be so.      Jan Karski 

My most ardent desire is that my country will recapture its historic opportunity for a peaceful evolution and that Poland will prove to the world that even the most complex situations can be solved by a dialogue and not by force.    Lech Walesa

Witold Pilecki - Famous Polish Quotations 
During the first 3 years
at Auschwitz, 
2 million people died; 
over the next 2 years -
3 million.   Witold Pilecki

President Aleksander Kwasniewski 

So I think that I can say, as the President of Poland, we're proud that I am coming from Poland, which is different and what's more important, much better than before. President Aleksander Kwasniewski

There is a fundamental difference between the Polish experience of the state and the Russian experience.  In the Polish experience, the state was always a foreign power. So, to hate the state was a patriotic act.    Ryszard Kapuscinski

Richard Edgar Pipes - Famous Polish Quotations

[Lenin was] merely a psychopath to whom ideas barely mattered and whose only motivation is to dominate and to kill.        Richard  Edgar Pipes 

Copernicus portrait - Famous Polish Quotation
To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.  Copernicus 

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec - Famous Polish Quotation

The weakest link in the chain is also the strongest. It can break the chain.  Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Adam Michnik - Famous Polish Quotation

Poland is an ally of the United States of America.  It was our duty to show that we are a reliable, loyal and predictable ally.  America needed our help, and we had to give it.  Adam Michnik

Andrzej Wajda - Famous Polish Quotation 
We expected that people were just waiting for the collapse of the Soviet Union, or at least for its retreat, and they were going to be full of initiative in all areas of life - in culture, in economy and in politics.  Andrzej Wajda

Jozef Wadecki - Famous Polish Quotation

I did the following routine during practice:
round off, whip, whip, whip, whip, whip, flip, double back straight 
with four twists.
Jozef Wadecki

Radek Sikorski - Foreign Minister- Poland - Famous Polish Quotation

When the world is shifting and new competitors arise, standing still is not sufficient. Institutions and procedures that have worked in the past are not enough. Incremental change is not enough. You have to adapt fast enough even to retain your position.  
Mr. Radek Sikorski (Foreign Minister of Poland)

In a democracy, one does not know what the next government will be like. Under fascism there is no next government.    
        Michal Kalecki


It is not so important what I did or how I did it but what is between the notes. That is what matters.  Pope John Paul II said at the beatification of Fra Angelico, "his belief became art, which in turn became faith. The art became a prayer.  You don't have to have a strong belief to make religious art but art and faith follow similar paths.     Henryk Gorecki


All the common people kissed my hands, my feet, my clothes; others only touched me, saying, 'Ah, let us kiss so valiant a hand!

King John III Sobieski (an excerpt from a letter written to his wife, after victory in the Battle of Vienna)

Joseph Conrad  - Famous Polish Quotation

He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word.  The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.     Joseph Conrad


The difference between western and eastern intellectuals is that the former have not been kicked in the ass enough.   Witold Gombrowicz

The Pole listening to Chopin listens to the voice of his whole race.   Ignace Paderewski

All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.  Marie Sklodowska (Curie)

Normal love isn't interesting. I assure you that it's incredibly boring.   
Roman Polanski

There are no miracles. There is only what one does oneself,"   Read more at Suite101: Tamara de Lempicka - The Life of an Artist | Suite101.com http://suite101.com/article/tamara-de-lempicka-the-life-of-an-artist-a346971#ixzz20dUCjuA4 

There are no miracles.
There is only what one does oneself.
Tamara de Lempicka


I am the master! I stretch forth my hands, even to the skies! I lay my hands upon the stars, as on the crystal wheels of the harmonica. Now fast, now slow, as my soul wills, I turn the stars. I weave them into rainbows, harmonies. I feel immortality! I create immortality!  
             Adam Mickiewicz

Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont - Famous Polish Quotation 
It is only our exactions of life that are terrible. It is only our impossible conceptions of beauty and good and justice that are terrible--because they never are realized, and at the same time they prevent us taking life as it is. That is the real source of all our sorrow and suffering.  
Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont

We have to oppose the widespread view that if the Russians are provoking us, we shouldn`t react because that could be perceived as a confirmation of Poland`s alleged Russophobia.  Let`s remember that Russia is not only provoking us but also checking how far it can go.  Recently, it went definitely too far.  We must react when we have to do with obvious nonsense, like the Russian foreign ministry`s recent statement that Yalta resulted in a strong, free, and democratic Poland.  President Lech Kaczynski

Polish President Lech Kaczynski - Famous Polish Quotation
President Lech Kaczynski
December 23, 2005 to April 10, 2010

July 4, 2012

American Independence: Polish Heroes of the Revolution

Flag of the United States and flag of PolandLIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. These ideals form the basis of the American Constitution, and for which Americans fought bitterly to win their independence from British rule.  Among the many heroes of the American Revolution were Benjamin Franklin, who brokered a liaison with the French in fighting against England; Thomas Jefferson who secretly assisted in the drafting of the American Constitution despite great risks; Nathaniel Greene, who was in charge of the southern regiments, and who brilliantly lured the British Redcoats on a wild goose chase until the American soldiers turned on them.

But among all the heroes of the American Revolution were two great men whose names have faded from collective memory.  They were not Americans, but they possessed the spirit of freedom and justice. I refer to Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski, two great Polish patriots whose love for freedom and liberty compelled them to sail across the vast expanse of a treacherous ocean to fight for another nation's independence.
Tadeusz Kosciuszko- Polish hero of American Revolution
Tadeusz Kosciuszko
Tadeusz Kosciuszko is a beloved national hero of Poland, and of the United States. He led the 1794 Kosciuszko Uprising in a desperate effort to free Poland from the brutal occupation and rule of Imperial Russia and Kingdom of Prussia, but the Uprising failed.  Years earlier, Kosciuszko was a Colonel in the Continental Army, and distinguished himself as a great leader and valiant soldier during the American Revolutionary War. After years of service, in 1783 Kosciuszko was promoted to rank of brigadier general, was given a grant of land, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America.  

On October 18, 1776, Kosciuzko was commissioned a Colonel of Engineers by Congress upon the recommendations of Prince Adam Kazimerz Czartoryski and General Charles Lee. He was dispatched to Pennsylvania to work with the Continental Army.  Soon after having arrived, Kosciuszko read the Declaration of Independence for the first time, and was particularly moved by its precepts because it encompassed all the principles which he valued so highly.  He was compelled to meet with the man who helped make it possible - Thomas Jefferson.  They became very close friends.

Kosciuszko's first mission dealt with the fortification of Philadelphia.  On September 24, 1776 he was given orders to fortify the banks of the Delaware River to defend against a possible attack from the British. In spring 1777, attached to the Northern Army under the command of Major General Horatio Gates, Kosciuszko directed the construction of several forts and military camps situated along the Canadian border.  He restored defenses at Fort Ticonderoga, and after having surveyed the terrain he recommended the construction of a battery on Sugar Loaf Mtn, which would have provided an ideal post from which to overlook the fort below.  However the latter recommendation was denied by the commander of the garrison, Brigadier Gen. Arthur St. Clair, due to what he deemed "logistical" problems. It was a serious error in judgement that greatly undermined their position. When the British Army arrived in July, their commander General John Burgoyne immediately established a stronghold on that hill, giving them complete strategic control.

Kosciuszko was considered one of the best engineers in the Continental Army.  His accomplishments garnered the attention of George Washington who immediately put Kosciuszko to work on improving defenses of the American stronghold in West Point.  (It was here that Benedict Arnold attempted to pass control to the British.)

There are memorials honoring Kosciuszko's name in many parts of the world. Bridges, statues, monuments, streets, and even mountains bear his name -  in Poland, France, the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Hungary, as well as Russia, Lithuania, Serbia, and Brazil.

Urn containing Tadeusz Kosciuszko's heart
Urn containing Tadeusz Kosciuszko's heart

Kazimierz Pulaski has become known as the Father of American Cavalry. He was a soldier and military commander who fought against Russian occupation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Like Kosciuszko, he also emigrated to North America, and with Benjamin Franklin's backing joined the Continental Army to fight during the American Revolutionary War. He saved George Washington's life and was given rank of General in the Army. Soon after he reorganized the American cavalry, and founded a new regiment, the Pulaski Cavalry Legion.
Polish hero of the American War of Independence - Kazimierz Pulaski
Kazimierz Pulaski

Pulaski was instrumental in saving the Army from a surprise attack at Warren Tavern (located near Philadelphia). He fought in the Battle of Germantown. In the winter of 1777, Pulaski remained at Valley Forge, with most of the Army. He strongly recommended that military operations continue throughout the winter however his idea was dismissed by the General Staff. Instead, he focused his energies on reorganizing the cavalry regiment, most of which was posted in Trenton. In February the following year, Pulaski worked with General Anthony Wayne, a collaboration which led to the successful victory over British troops at Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Despite these successes there lingered some degree of tension between the Polish and American officers, the latter of whom were not content to accept orders from "the foreigners" who could barely speak English. Irregardless the Polish officers were highly disciplined,
experienced cavalrymen and tacticians.  In March 1778, Pulaski chose to resign his command due to internal conflict and the fact that wages due to the Polish lancer unit was denied.

Pulaski created a new unit at Yorktown, where he met with General Horatio Gates.  At Gates' recommendation, Congress conferred Pulaski with rank of Brigade General, and a special title of "Commander of the Horse".   His new unit numbered about 300 men, Americans and foreigners.  Pulaski was highly commended by General Charles Lee for the high standards he used in training and became known as the "Father of American Cavalry".  He trained his men in cavalry tactics, and demanded nothing less than excellence from them.

A heated controversy arose surrounding Pulaski's financial situation.  Since Pulaski could not depend on Congress for funds, which were quite scarce, he resorted to his own personal finances to purchase the best equipment he could find to ensure the safety of his men.  Consequently, he was mercilessly hounded by auditors and local officials.  Pulaski was eventually cleared of charges, but not before his death.  He died during the Battle of Savannah.  

Just as Kosciuszko, Pulaski is revered as a hero who struggled and fought for liberty and justice -  in Poland and in the United States.  He remains among the most honored persons in American history. Many places have been named after him - cities, streets, bridges, a US submarine (USS Casimir Pulaski), a Polish frigate ORP General Kazimierz Pulaski, Fort Pulaski (during the American Civil War) and the list goes on.

Kazimierz Pulaski is commemorated for all time, and has been memorialized in the poetic verses written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  In 1929, the United States Congress passed a resolution proclaiming October 11 each year as General Pulaski Memorial Day. 

In 2009,  the US Congress passed a resolution conferring Honorary US citizenship on Pulaski, a bill which was signed by President Barack Obama on November 6, 2009.  Kazimierz Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive such an honour posthumously.  The other six were:  William Penn,  Hannah Callowhill Penn, Marquis de Lafayette, Sir Winston Churchill, Raoul Wallenberg, Mother Teresa.