The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz is an epic story of human survival. A Polish prisoner of war escapes a WWII Soviet Gulag labor camp in 1941 and walks, with a few other escapees, 4,000 miles across the Siberian arctic, Gobi Desert, and Himalayan mountains to safety in British India.
It's an amazing story, and when I first read it more than a decade ago I was thoroughly enthralled and inspired. (If you had chanced to talk to me at the time, I would have told you that you had to read this book. I might have even given you a copy.)
So I was disappointed when allegations were raised that Rawicz's tale of escape was fabricated. Then, in 2006, the BBC released reports proving that Rawicz (who died in 2004) was released from the camp in 1942 and transferred to a refugee camp in Persia/Iran. His famous trek was never made.
But then, another plot twist. In May 2009, Witold Gliński came forward and claimed the story was really his own. He'd known about Rawicz's bestselling book, but had kept quiet, wanting to forget the war and move on.
So, did Rawicz read official papers in London's Polish embassy recounting Gliński's escape? Is The Long Walk reborn as a truly epic, inspiring story, but with a name change? The story of this story goes on.
This year three Polish men retraced the journey. From May through November 11, Tomasz Grzywaczewski, Bartosz Malinowski, and Filip Droszdz floated 2,200 kilometers down the Lena River, trekked 1,000 kilometers along Baikal Lake, rode horses 300 kilometers, and rode bikes 4,500 kilometers through the Gobi Desert to reach Calcutta, India.
"Our aim was to show that the real hero of the Great Escape was a Polish man named Witold Gliński," Grzywaczewski told ExplorersWeb. "Not Slavomir Rawicz. And to prove that it had happened."
To keep the debate going, The Way Back, a movie based on the original Rawicz story, will be released in January 2011.