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The Long Walk – Would You Rather Have Questions or Answers?
I guess I’m a little slow to these things sometimes but I just…literally just…found out that Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom was probably fabricated out of whole cloth. Damn.
“The Long Walk” (published in 1956) describeds Rawicz’ epic escape from a Soviet gulag in 1941. Supposedly, Rawicz’ and a few fellow escapees(including the mysterious American Mr. Smith) trudged over six-thousand miles south from Siberia, passing through Mongolia and Tibet, crossing the Himalayas to finally arrive in the safety of British India.
I read this book first in 1982 when I was 12 years old. I re-read it in 1988, 1996 and again in 2002. It is a simple, powerful tale that grabbed me by the gut and served as a personal inspiration to me. Love, power, courage, hope, despair, victory. It’s all here. It remains inspiring.
I guess. Maybe. It might not be true. I just now ran across a 2006 BBC documentary (listen to a recently updated version of this report here) that essentially debunks Rawicz’ Homerian journey. According to Soviet records, Rawicz was released during a general amnesty in 1942 and transported to Iran. He didnt escape. He was released. Rawicz , however, claimed that after arriving in India the British sent him to Iraq to fight with a Polish army contingent. Either way, we know he ended up in Palestine in late 1942 from which he was then sent to England for training with the Polish Air Corps. He spent the rest of his life in England, passing in 2004.
Did he do it? Did he make the trip or did he lie? At one point a British military intelligence officer who had been stationed in India in 1942 came forward saying that he debriefed three emaciated me who claimed to have walked from Siberia while on duty in ’42. He could not recall any names. In 2009, another Polish WWII vet living in England – Witold Gliński – announced that the story told in “The Long Walk” was true …. except that it was really an account of what happened to him – not Rawicz.
Peter Weir’s Hollywoodification of the story, renamed ‘The Way Back’ and starring Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan opens soon in theaters near you.
Take it with a grain of salt.