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

Updated March 10, 2019 3.8k views10 items
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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 devastating Gulag in itself is a nearly impossible feat — to do so and then trek through a blizzard and across a desert to freedom is remarkable. Here's what we know about how this insane endeavor was accomplished. 

  • Photo: The Way Back / Newmarket Films / Amazon

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

    In 1955, 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 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 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. 

  • Photo: The Long Walk / Lyons Press / Amazon

    There Is No Evidence That Rawicz Made The Walk

    The Long Walk is an incredible story — the only issue is that no one is sure if it's true. And even if it is true — or partially true — we're not sure if Rawicz is telling his own story, or if he just stole it from somebody else.

  • Photo: The Way Back / Newmarket Films / Amazon

    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.

  • Photo: The Way Back / Newmarket Films / Amazon

    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."