‘I traipsed 4,000 miles to escape a Gulag only to end up in friggin’ Sandiacre’ - Slawomir Rawicz
‘Special power: Walking dead
Comic Release Date: April 2014
Slavomir Rawicz (1915 – 2004) was a Polish lieutenant during the Second World War whose book, The Long Walk (1956), ghost-written by Ronald Downing based on extensive conversations with Rawicz, told the story of a remarkable journey. 25 year-old Rawicz and six companions – a Latvian, three Polish soldiers, a Lithuanian architect, and an American engineer – had escaped from a Soviet labour camp in Siberia with a few provisions, then walked 4,000 miles across Siberia, Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas, intent on reaching British India.
The Long Walk tells the story of this 11-month journey, during which the escapees were joined by a 17 year old Polish girl, Kristina (whose death in the Gobi desert is devastatingly recounted) and – after the deaths of four of their party – arrived at the Indian border in 1942. After his recovery, Rawicz made his way to England.
At the war’s end, when Poland was placed under Soviet control, he remained, married a local woman and lived in Sandiacre, teaching design and ceramics at colleges in the city. The balance of truth and fiction in The Long Walk has been much debated, but the book can plausibly claim to have exposed the Soviet forced labour system many years before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s more comprehensive account, The Gulag Archipelago (1973), first appeared in the West.
Slawomir Rawicz Facts
1: When the truth of his book’s account of the escape was challenged in 1997, Rawicz said: “I did not write my story for personal gain. It was done as a memorial to all those who could not speak for themselves.”
2: During the 1970s, Rawicz worked as a technician on the Architectural Ceramics course in the School of Art & Design at Nottingham Trent University.
3: The Australian director Peter Weir made a film, The Way Back (2010) inspired by The Long Walk. The Rawicz character is renamed Janusz Wieszczek and played by Jim Sturgess.
4: In 2006, researchers at the BBC presented documents and records, some in Rawicz’s own handwriting, suggesting that Rawicz had not escaped the Gulag, but been released during an amnesty in 1942.
5: Whether Rawicz’s account in The Long Walk is factually accurate or not, it is clear that the book has come to represent the stories of many Polish POWs who embarked on long and arduous journeys to escape Nazi and Soviet camps during the Second World War.