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Fact Or Fiction? The Long Walk and The Way Back By William Jacobs and James Masefield

The Long Walk and “The Way Back”:  Fact Or Fiction?

By

William Jacobs and James Masefield 

The six messages below by William Jacobs and James Masefield from December, 2010 and January, 2011 initially appeared on the IMDb Message Board for the movie “The Way Back.”  Sadly IMDb regards such material as ephemeral and hence subject to eventual deletion.  As a result, three of these messages have already been removed and the other three may soon meet a similar fate.  Since they discuss certain aspects of The Long Walk and “The Way Back,” Mikael Strandberg kindly agreed to rehost the material as part of The Long Walk articles on this website.

The following is a summary of the six messages[i]:

 (1)  A message by William Jacobs (dated December 27, 2010) arguing that “The Way Back” was a work of fiction.

(2)  A message by James Masefield (dated January 4, 2011) disputing the characterization of The Long Walk and arguing that Linda Willis’ book Looking for Mr.  Smith provides credible responses to the concerns, in particular favorably noting the account of Witold Glinski.

(3)  William Jacobs’ response to (2) (dated January 5, 2011) encouraging Mr. Masefield to consult the material which Mikael Strandberg had already posted on The Long Walk, in particular Leszek Gliniecki’s response to Witold Glinski.

(4)  William Jacobs’ message (dated January 14, 2011) discussing Leszek Gliniecki’s objections to Witold Glinski’s account.

(5)  James Masefield’s (dated January 15, 2011) response to (4), arguing that testimonial reports evidence the historical veracity of The Long Walk.

(6)  William Jacobs’ reply (dated January 15, 2011) to (5), arguing for a more skeptical position.

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(1)  “The Way Back” is a work of fiction

by [William Jacobs], December 27, 2010

The movie may or may not be good, but it definitely is not based on fact.

Anyone concerned about the veracity of the book The Long Walk ought to go out to Amazon.com and read the critical book reviews (i.e., those reviewers who give the book a rating of one star).  Multiple reviews very effectively and convincingly argue that the book is a fraud and that many alleged incidents in the book in fact are physically impossible.  This information has been widely available for a number of years, making it difficult to believe that anyone can still assert that The Long Walk is a fact based true story.

(2)  Re:  “The Way Back” is a work of fiction

by [James Masefield], January 4, 2011

Just wanted to chime in on this debate.  I’ve just finished a fascinating book that I think … [William Jacobs] … would enjoy.  It’s called Looking for Mr.  Smith by Linda Willis.  In this, you’ll find verification of many of the issue’s you’re grappling with.  Willis documents meticulous research of 8 years on this very subject.  Levinson (of the BBC broadcast) and Weir’s scriptwriter both consulted her on a large scale.  My take on it after reading this is in agreement that it’s a fictional movie based on a real story.  And really, the vast amount of such movies is the same.  Movie stories are always altered to meet needs.  In reviewing your posts I’d just like to comment with my own opinion.

Regarding the travelers crossing the Gobi desert without food and water ([William Jacobs]) – From reading the above mentioned book, one learns that Rawicz denies that he said that.  Remember that The Long Walk was written by ghost writer Ronald Downing.  Somewhere someone threw in some fantastic stuff and someone else (Rawicz) didn’t bother to edit it (the yetis can be put in that category as well perhaps).

The movie IS based on fact.  I understand that [William Jacobs] wants hard documented proof and it’s true that there is little.  However after reading Looking for Mr. Smith I’m as convinced as Weir that 3 people did make that journey and that most likely Glinski was one of them.  Rupert Mayne, a British officer who died in 2001 questioned them while they convalesced outside Calcutta.  He later affirmed that.

The best suggestion as to how Rawicz got the story might be that he was stationed in Persia at the time the travelers reached India, returned to health and moved on.  It’s possible that he heard of the story and somehow obtained the interviews and that he perhaps kept/destroyed them.  But that’s not proven.

“In the middle of a war three emaciated refugees escaped from the Soviet Gulag do not wander into India every day.  Reports would have been filed.  Where are the documents? Where are the hospital records”([William Jacobs]).  Valid questions however surely you must realize that this was the most tumultuous period the human race has experienced yet.  Millions of people were displaced, wandering homeless and there were war fronts on at least half the planet.  This wasn’t business as usual.  Chaos everywhere.  Also, it was not standard hospital, it was a temporary, make shift m.a.s.h.  unit with bamboo walls.

Nonetheless, in a court of law the case is probably unproven but that really doesn’t matter to me.

Once again I strongly recommend Looking for Mr. Smith.  Thanks.

(3)  Re:  “The Way Back” is a work of fiction

by [William Jacobs], January 4, 2011

Thank you for your well written interesting remarks.  Actually I have looked at Linda Willis’ just published book Looking For Mr.  Smith.  While it was very engrossing, I was not convinced.

A very thought provoking webpage was just posted.  Please see Leszek Gliniecki’s “I have proof Glinski didn’t do The Long Walk” (http://www.explorersweb.com/trek/news.php?id=19856).  Gliniecki claims that in 1940 and 1941 in Russia he and Glinski were fellow students! His testimony, the documents that he provides, and his analysis of accounts reported by John Dyson in The Reader’s Digest and Linda Willis in her book increase doubts regarding Glinski’s story.

After you read Gliniecki’s webpage, I would be interested in your reaction.

(4)  Re.  “The Way Back,” The Long Walk, and Witold Glinski

by [William Jacobs], January 14, 2011

Dear [James Masefield],

Again, thank you for your thoughtful posting.

To my mind the most important item in Leszek Gliniecki’s article “I have proof Glinski didn’t do The Long Walk” (http://www.explorersweb.com/trek/news.php?id=19856) is the document showing that Glinski was in northeast Russia until September 7, 1941.  This is not just the testimony of one octogenarian versus another octogenarian.  This is hard archival documentary evidence.  And this material makes it very difficult to construct a viable chronology whereby Glinski could have made the long walk.

To my mind, an effective reply to this documentary evidence requires more than just saying that it might be inaccurate, that the records might have been fabricated, that the Soviets might have covered up possible escapees, etc.  Of course all of these points might be true.  However where is the evidence that in the case of Gliniecki’s documents any of these responses is true?  A possibility that something happened simply is not evidence that it did.

I also was impressed by Leszek Gliniecki’s analysis of the different versions of Glinski’s story.  Even if we treat several of Glinski’s conflicts with charity, the result still must raise serious questions as to his accurate reporting.  In this regard, you ought to read John Dyson’s response to Gliniecki, as well as the Gliniecki and CuChullaine O’Reilly replies to Dyson (http://www.mikaelstrandberg.com/2011/01/07/john-dyson-replies-gliniecki/ ).

For my money, the story of The Long Walk is a great tale.  It is very moving.  Linda Willis spent ten years trying to determine its truth.  Alas, as you know, despite years of research, no one has been able to find any contemporary documentary evidence supporting the claim that Glinski or other anonymous Polish Gulag escapees walked from Siberia 4000 miles across the Gobi and the Himalayas into India.  How could something like that happen and not attract considerable contemporaneous attention? Even in the middle of a war, British and Indian military officers would have interrogated the men and filed reports.  Where are those documents? No one has ever found them.

So to sum up:  Absent better evidence, Glinski’s story just strains my credulity.  Sorry, but that is how I see it.

[William Jacobs]

(5)  Re.  “The Way Back,” The Long Walk, and Witold Glinski

by [James Masefield], January 15, 2011

Dear [William Jacobs],

Thanks so much for the link to Mikael Strandberg’s blog.  What a treasure trove of information.  It’s very cool that all these players can reply to each other in a way that we can experience it.

There are so many different strings here that I’ll try to work through a few.

In general I find Dyson’s responses to Gliniecki very believable and sensible.  In several places Dyson points out that discrepancies in times and places are faults of his own (Dyson) such as him writing 1941 instead of 1940 in a letter to Gliniecki (an error that he points out was only in his letter and not in his story).  He says that he wrote in his story that Glinski escaped in February but maybe it was March, one guesstimate is as good as another (true enough).  Also how do we know that Willis didn’t get it wrong about Glinski planning the escape “with two others”? How many of these discrepancies are through interpretation rather than Glinski purposefully spinning a web of lies as Gliniecki purports?

Dyson answers the questions very well and believably regarding how a 17 year old “led” the escape.  From Dyson’s answer it seems clear to me that Glisnki was simply going to go, had made up his mind and other people decided to go with him at the last minute.  No where do I read that Glinski is claiming leadership and authority.  It discredits Gliniecki where he doesn’t seem to get it and keeps pounding at the same thing.

Gliniecki comes across as a bitter old man.  The more I read the more he discredits himself.  For instance he comments that Dyson offers new info that Glinski’s father was “in charge of a power plant”.  He is incorrect (for someone who get so red in the face about detailed discrepancies).  Just scroll up the site to what Dyson actually wrote.  He said “his father who ran power generators at a mining camp”.  A power plant and a generator at a mining camp are very different things.  Gliniecki is coloring things to his convenience.

Regarding CuChullaine O’Reilly.  Wow, he likes to tie stories together huh? “Hidalgo,” The Third Eye.  In fact I didn’t see anywhere in his long verbiage where he “did” respond to anything Dyson said above.

The nit picking goes on and on.

We (you and I) just see the story differently and that is OK with me, it’s very enlightening actually to see a different viewpoint.  I stand with Dyson, the person who has interviewed Glinski for many hours.  His quote below echoes my sentiments exactly.

“One says the records tell the story.  The other says that in the chaotic conditions record-keeping was hit-and-miss.  In my opinion the latter story is easy to believe.  One has to wonder how long it would have taken the authorities, such as they were, to realize that Mr. Glinski had absconded.  It’s more than possible, I would suggest, that when the amnesty came his name was simply ticked off with the others.”

Exactly.  Just because something appears to be “hard archival documentary evidence” does not necessarily mean it’s correct.  Why are you convinced that people running the Gulag’s paperwork are correct?

You wrote again, how could they have made this journey and there are no documents? I responded earlier.  I don’t think it’s that outrageous that nothing has come up.  They were interrogated and Rupert Mayne claimed that he did it.  But it’s not like those documents are central to the world conflicts taking place.  I’m sure thousands (millions) of documents regarding the Second World War have not been in existence for decades.

Of course your point (and many others as well) is well taken.  It’s not a true story until there’s proof and validation.  But then I start to ruminate.  A murder takes place.  A suspect is identified.  “Where were you at the time of the murder?” “Watching the ball game at home”.  “Can you prove it?”  “Well, maybe not.  No one else was there”.  If there’s no proof is the person guilty?

Please let me know of any new information.  This last link was fascinating.

Thanks!

(6)  Re.  “The Way Back,” The Long Walk, and Witold Glinski

by [William Jacobs], January 15, 2011

Dear [James Masefield],

Again, many thanks for your thoughtful, well written post.  You deserve praise for your contribution.

If I might suggest, given your interest in this subject and the care that you are exercising in weighing these matters, I would strongly urge you to consider reposting your comments on Mikael Strandberg’s blog.  Many of the people most knowledgeable about these topics read his blog and may not devote many cycles to reading this IMDb Message Board.  In that forum your remarks will definitely get the attention that they really deserve.

The entire Rawicz, Glinski, et al discussion reminds me of David Hume’s remarks in An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section X (“Of Miracles”).  We ought to proportion our beliefs to the available evidence.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  Tell me that you walked to the corner store and, barring evidence to the contrary, I probably will believe you.  Telling me that you escaped from the Soviet Gulag and walked 4000 miles without supplies across the Gobi and the Himalayas clearly is a much more unusual tale.

Could the long walk have happened?  Of course (e.g., witness Josef Bauer’s related story in As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me, a well documented tale of a German POW who escaped from the Siberian Gulag).  Did the long walk happen?  Where is your hard evidence?  Arguably the mere fact that researchers have looked for the evidence for many years in all of the right places and not found it is itself evidence that the desideratum does not exist.

And that is why it is so important to demand hard evidence.  All human memory, but especially those of octogenarians, is inherently suspect.  We do not need to delve into investigations of motives.  Psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated how people think that they remember things that never happened.  That the Glinski story only emerged after many decades when almost all of the possible witnesses would have died is in and of itself troubling.  Fortunately, at least one witness, Gliniecki, was still alive to reply.

Again, Gliniecki’s analysis of the Dyson and Willis reports of Glinski’s tale is important.  It shows that, at best, even with the most charitable construal, Glinski is unclear about hard details and dates central to his story, things which could confirm or disconfirm his account, e.g., when and where he entered India.  To my mind, that in itself ought to raise skeptical flags.

Though you are unimpressed by CuChullaine O’Reilly’s cautionary analogies to “Hidalgo” and The Third Eye, I find them to be apropos.  As I read his remarks, I do not think that he intended to rebut specific points in John Dyson’s post.  Rather I understood O’Reilly’s comments to demonstrate how people’s emotional attachments can impact their critical faculties and, hence, show the tremendous importance of hard documentary evidence in the evaluation of putative larger than life stories.  Elsewhere on this [IMDB Message Board] I myself have noted a somewhat related tale concerning how I and many others were misled by Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years In Tibet (cf.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1023114/board/thread/175848909?d=176023480&p=4#176023480).  As the old adage goes, once burned twice shy.

Regards, and I hope that you will consider my suggestion concerning Mikael Strandberg’s blog.

[William Jacobs]

The Authors

After teaching philosophy for thirteen years, William Jacobs has spent the last three decades working as an engineer.  He lives in Los Angeles.

James Masefield has a B.A. in Geography and Environmental Science and has traveled extensively.  He is dry stone mason living in Vermont.

Each became aware of the The Long Walk and “The Way Back” in 2010 just as the movie “The Way Back” was entering release.  Their interest perked, each did the appropriate reading and, as the saying goes, one thing simply led to another.

Both authors would like to stress their lack of formal academic qualifications in areas such as Polish history or human survival in hostile environments directly relevant to The Long Walk and “The Way Back.”  Neither knows Russian nor Polish.  Nor have they done research in the Hoover Institute or the British Foreign Office archives.  The only relevant skills that they bring to the table are those of reasonably intelligent people of critical judgment with an interest in this subject.


[i] For the sake of accuracy and without altering the substance of the arguments, several minor editorial corrections and changes (such as fixes to spelling and grammar) have been made to the original posted messages.

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2 comments

  1. I have the book (only for the Mongolia section) and watched the movie on Netflix, which was entertaining, but the Mongolia sequence was a mess at just about every level. I need to give a thorough read of Mongolia part the book instead of the quick scan I’ve had time for, but it looks pretty bogus to me. I can’t make any sense of where he says he was in relation to the location or topography, based on where I’ve been in essentially the same areas he must have gone through.

  2. The escape story that I favorably cited in my posting of January 15, 2011, Josef Bauer’s “As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me,” has itself proven to be quite questionable. Please refer to the Wikipedia article on Cornelius Rost (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelius_Rost ) which raises serious questions concerning the book’s accuracy:

    “Comprehensive researches, condensed in 2010 into a three-hour radio feature by radio journalist Arthur Dittlmann for the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting Company), left serious doubts about the authenticity of the events told in Rost’s original story. For example, no prisoner of war camp existed at Cape Dezhnev in the Far East of Siberia at the time claimed in the book; Rost was not a Wehrmacht officer as depicted in the story; the German Red Cross, with headquarters in Munich, never received any inquiry about his whereabouts, which is unusual for a ten-year imprisonment; and Rost had been released from a Russian prisoner of war camp on 28 October 1947, about two years before his alleged escape in 1949-1952, which he therefore could not have accomplished.”

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