Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

The Long Walk:  The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Slavomir Rawicz.  Guilford, Ct.: Globe Pequot Press, 2010.  e-book, 253 pps.

   Slavomir Rawicz, Lieutenant of the Polish Cavalry, was arrested on November 19, 1939 at his home during a party welcoming him home.  He had barely gotten in the doorway and managed a few hellos before the Soviet Secret Police came for him.  His supposed crime was espionage.  After spending a miserable year in the Lubyanka hellhole, Rawicz was given a three day trial.  At the end of the trial, he was sentenced to twenty five years of hard labor.  He was briefly returned to Lubyanka.

     The next several months found Slavomir Rawicz rounded up along with other political prisoners into a train of cattle cars with standing room only, and then a rough march through part of the wintry and bitter cold Siberia to Camp Number 303.  A chance conversation with an Ostyak in Russian got Rawicz seriously thinking about escape.

     Deliberately, Rawicz plotted the escape.  Six other prisoners joined him.  Together they walked down the side of the then Soviet Union, through parts of Mongolia and then Tibet, and into British India.  The landscape was forbidding.  Starvation was a perpetual companion.  Through the hospitality of many poor villagers, Rawicz and his buddies were enabled to carry on. 

     Not everyone survived.  Among those that did was one American.  The American had been arrested and subsequently denied his right to contact the American Embassy.  The band of escaped prisoners were pretty beat up by time they reached India and help.  Rawicz had intentions of returning to Poland immediately to continue fighting the war.  He hadn't realized how much in need he was of medical attention and recovery.  Having lost everything, Rawicz did return to fighting in the war.  He never had contact with his companions again.

sapphoq reviews says:  I appreciated the immense history behind this book.  The events did not occur in a vacuum, but rather with the distinct backdrop of World War Two.  The Long Walk gave me a real sense of what it might be like to live in the Soviet Union during wartime, when the Secret Police snatched people up with impunity and carted them off to various Soviet prisons and concentration camps.  What Slavomir Rawicz and his comrades went through in fleeing from Siberia is a tale that left me with both a certain grittiness and a deep admiration for them.  Highly recommended.

No comments: