Weird History The Man Who Walked Through A Blizzard And A Desert To Escape The Gulags  

Cleo Egnal
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The true story behind the Peter Weir movie The Way Back is a bit more complicated than it might seem. That's because the events probably occurred, but the person who lived them may not be who we think. Weir's movie is based on a book titled The Long Walk, a biographical book about Slavomir (Slawomir) Rawicz, a Polish man imprisoned in the dreaded Gulag labor camps of Russia at the beginning of WWII.

He claimed to escape and walk 4,000 miles to India. When Weir was researching for his movie, though, it turned out there was no evidence Rawicz himself took the famous long walk from Siberia to India. Instead another Polish man, Witold Glinski, may have been the one to accomplish the feat.

The story, if real, is one of strength, bravery, ingenuity, and pure luck. To even escape the horrific Gulag in itself is a nearly impossible feat — to do so and then trek through a blizzard and across a desert to freedom is simply remarkable. Here's what we know about how this insane endeavor was accomplished. 

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The "Long Walk" Involved Escape From The Soviet Union To India


In 1956, Daily Mail reporter Roland Downing ghost-authored a book called The Long Walk. The book was based on a series of events put forth to be true by Slavomir Rawicz, the brilliantly brave man who supposedly took the brutally long walk after which the book was named. 

Rawicz and Downing wrote about Rawicz's harrowing journey from the horrific Soviet prison, the Siberian Gulag camp, to freedom in India starting in February of 1941. For a year, Rawicz and his companions trudged through blizzard, dessert, mountains, and more to reach their destination. 

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There Is No Evidence That Rawicz Made The Walk


The Long Walk is an incredible story - the only issue is that the truth of it has since been debunked. Soviet records do show that Rawicz was a prisoner at the Gulag, but an amnesty document shows he was released in 1942, after his supposed 1941 escape. There are also records from the Polish Army that document Rawicz's arrival in Iran, not India, in 1942.

There is no concrete evidence tying Rawicz to the story and plenty of evidence suggesting he made the whole thing up — or stole the story from someone else.  

Witold Glinski May Have Been The Man Who Made The Actual Walk


As improbable as the story of the long walk is, it's possible it was achieved, just not by Rawicz. When director Peter Weir was doing research for his 2010 movie The Way Back, he found so many discrepancies in Rawicz's story, he was hesitant to even make the movie. However, further investigation led him to Witold Glinski, the man who claims he actually did take the famous walk. 

In 2009, Glinski came forward with his story. Glinksi believes Rawicz found his story in documents housed in the Polish embassy in London. Glinski - similar to Rawicz - has almost no evidence to corroborate his supposed escape journey. A former schoolmate has even said the two were at school together at the time of the escape. Both Glinski and Rawicz have passed away, so the truth remains a mystery.

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A Blizzard Provided The Cover Needed For Escape


Whoever it was that escaped, be it Glinski or some other Gulag prisoner, the escape itself was remarkable. Glinski recounted tunneling under the wire during a terrific blizzard, one which rendered guards completely unwilling to even poke their heads out of their doors. 

After he reached the other side of the wire he saw that six men had followed behind him. He told The Mirror, "they [came] out of nowhere, like cockroaches in a bakery."