Born on 1 September 1915 in Warsaw, Sławomir Rawicz was born to a feudal household. He later joined the Polish Army Reserve in 1937 and underwent training to become a commissioned officer in the cadet officer school. In July 1939, he married his first wife, Vera. Soon after, the young couple were tragically separated during the invasions of Poland by Germany.
Sławomir Rawicz emerged as a war hero, known to have successfully escaped from the Siberian Labour Camp in 1941. His historical trek claims his long journey on foot, where he traversed the rugged terrains of the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and the mountains in the Himalayan range, to finally reach India in the winter of 1942.The Gulag Camp, in Siberia from where he started his walk, was a prison camp where Sławomir Rawicz and several other inmates were sentenced to hard labour, alleged on charges of espionage.
Sławomir Rawicz served as a lieutenant in the Polish armed forces. During the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, he was imprisoned by the secret police organization. The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which was leading the secret police organization in the Soviet Union then, came to be known as the NKVD under Stalin. When the Nazi Germany and Soviet Union defeated Poland, Sławomir Rawicz, along with thousands of other warriors were arrested by the NKVD in November 1939. Sławomir Rawicz was taken to Minsk, and sent for interrogation to Kharkov (the first capital of Soviet Republic). This was just the beginning of Sławomir Rawicz’s extensive enduring journey, where he was then deported to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow and summoned for a trial. Dispatched to Siberia, he and many others were transported in cattle trucks, and forced to march several miles to the Gulag camp, thereof.
The story of his escape and valour comes from Rawicz himself. He claimed that along with six other companions, he escaped from the Siberian Camp in the middle of the blizzard in 1941 and headed in the southern direction, avoiding travel through the guarded towns. According to Rawicz, they journeyed from Siberia to India, battling severe conditions and encountering bizarre creatures like Yeti. After travelling miles for 11 months, Rawicz, with his fellow survivors were said to have stumbled upon a Gorkha Patrol in India, where they were taken to a hospital in the city of Calcutta for medical intervention.
The culmination of Sławomir Rawicz’s dramatic ‘long walk’ can be surveyed in many writings. His struggle and stalwart march has been subject to several discussions and debate. Eminent scholars, authors and critics have researched the accuracy of his story to understand the prominence, route and landmarks in the great escape.
Inspired by his extensive traveller accomplishments, Ronald Downing had ghost written the book, ‘The Long Walk’, published in 1956, which was later translated in 25 languages for its worldwide publication. Inspired by the book, popular Australian filmmaker, Peter Weir, directed a Hollywood war film: ‘The Way Back’, which was released in 2010, projecting the true story of a journey to freedom.
Article by Rochita.