What do you consider to be a long walk? A hike to Laurel Falls? Most would definitely say the Appalachian Trail would qualify. But what about a 4000-mile slog across the frozen Siberian tundra, the Gobi desert, through Tibet, and then over the Himalayan Mountains to British India to gain your freedom?
That's exactly what a couple of Polish escapees from a Soviet Gulag did in 1940.
The story became the subject of one of my all time favorite books; "The Long Walk."
The book has now inspired a new movie, due out in January, called "The Way Back," starring Jim Sturgess, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, and Saoirse Ronan (see the trailer below).
Ever since The Long Walk was published in 1956 its authenticity has been challenged. The protagonist of the story, Slavomir Rawicz, was never able to provide any documentation to prove his story. However, it does seem that the general consensus among most critics is that the story is mostly true, but, possibly embellished. It’s even possible that the embellishment occurred at the hand of his English speaking ghost-writer.
For an interesting perspective on the veracity of the story from someone who retraced the steps of Rawicz in 2004, and who came to believe the story to be true, check out Dave Anderson's trip journal (see his final thoughts at the bottom of the page).
However, to throw a wrench into Mr. Anderson's conclusions, a Polish WWII veteran by the name of Witold Gliński apparently publicly claimed in 2009 that the story was true, but it had actually happened to him, not Rawicz. Moreover, the ExplorersWeb website has this nugget of information:
After Rawicz died in 2006, a BBC radio documentary uncovered proof that he was lying – military records showed that he was serving in Persia at the time of the escape. The best explanation is that Rawicz read Witold’s genuine account of the escape, in official papers that he found in the Polish Embassy in London during the war. Witold knew his story had been stolen. But he never protested because he wanted to forget the war and concentrate on his new life.
This piece of information was included as part of an interview with Tomasz Grzywaczewski, one of three Poles who recently retraced the escape route themselves, and have made it their mission to show the world that the real hero of the Great Escape was actually Witold Gliński. You can read that interview by clicking here.
No matter who the story is about, or how much embellishment was involved, The Long Walk is still a great read and an incredible story.
One last tidbit: the story is also famous for the claim that the surviving escapees saw a pair of yetis while traversing the Himalayas.....
Here's the trailer from the movie:
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