Long Walk to freedom
The pure facts
“You must follow your own path”.
We heard these words one March afternoon in the small cottage somewhere in the very far end of Cornwall Peninsula. The man who said them indeed had chosen his own way and made one of the most epic escapes in world history. His name was Witold Glinski. He told us an absolutely amazing story which began in the 1940’s.
On the remote North of Siberia, seven prisoners got out from Soviet labor camp (lagier) in Yakutia. Walking on foot, they escaped to Calcutta in India. They fled during a snow blizzard and crossed around 7.000 km through one of the most inhospitable parts of, not only Asia, but the whole world. They forced their way through the Siberian taiga, the Gobi Desert, the Tibetan Plateau and at last the Himalayas. The group of seven came from diverse backgrounds. Four were Poles, one American, one Ukrainian, and one Yugoslavian but only four people reached their goal. Three Poles people died in the Gobi and on top of the World staying forever among the Asian wilderness.
This extraordinary story was described by another Polish former GULAG prisoner Slawomir Rawicz. His book entitled “The Long Walk. The True Story of a Trek to Freedom”(1950), with the help of English journalist from the “Daily Mail” Ronald Downing, turned out to be an overwhelming success. It became a bestseller, especially in the USA and UK. The book was published with a few million copies and it was translated into twenty five languages. Even today “The Long Walk” is regarded to be on the most famous book ever written by Polish author.
However, there is one problem: Rawicz wrote the book as his memories. Simply, he claimed that he escaped for Lagier. For four decades nobody doubted his truthfulness. But in 2006, after Slavomir Rawicz’a death, BBC reporters found out the documents that clearly show that indeed the “Long Walk” author was imprisoned in Lagier but he could not have escaped from it because he was released on the basis on so called Sikorski – Majski agreement (settlement between Polish Government in Exile and USSR authorities).
Doubts grew bigger and bigger. It started to become obvious that the whole tale about the Great Escape was imagined and then suddenly, another journalist John Dyson from Reader’s Digest meet by accident Witold Glinski the man who said to be the real hero of “The Long Walk”. Dyson, as a journalist investigated and concluded that Glinski was not a liar after all, Glinski indeed escaped from Siberia and reached India. Dyson based his theory inter alia on the report of British intelligence (MI 5) officer Rupert Mayne, who was serving at that time in Calcutta and who strongly, claimed that Mayne was interrogating the group of people who told the same story as Glinski.
These are the facts. But what about us and our project “Long Walk Plus Expedition”?
It is true that “The Long Walk” was worldwide bestseller and indeed it was almost everywhere except in Poland. In our country almost no one has ever heard abut the Great Escape. The book could not be published during the communistic era and after the collapse of totalitarian regime, no one was interested in publishing it. Eventually, the very small circulation was printed by a little publishing house and it occurred that readers were absolutely not interested in reading it.
This year the Hollywood movie “The Way Back” (directed by Peter Weir) is going to be released. This incredible escape is probably going to become famous once again. But what if history repeats itself? Will it be popular everywhere with the exception of Poland? I thought no we have to do something to remind people in Poland and around the world that the leader of the escapees was a Polish hero. We wanted to show a fascinating part of our history cannot be forgotten.
So we did it. We organized expedition on the trails of prisoners and traveled by boats, horses, bicycles and finally on foot the distance from Yakutsk to Calcutta. We had to challenge rapid rivers, thick taiga forest, thousands of mosquitoes and midges. We were suffering hungry in remote Barguzinskie Mounatians and dying from horribly thirst in the Gobi desert. We fought hurricane winds and high elevations when cycling through Tibet. We encountered dozens of extremely friendly people. On the other hand, we experienced extremely dangerous forces of nature. Somehow we touched the travels of our heroes. Of course, our situation was incomparably better, we were well-equipped, physically prepared and we a good idea about the regions on our route. Still we managed to feel the inhuman reality of loneliness traveling across Asia and we proved that such an escape was extremely difficult and a demanding challenge, but still a possible one.
During last six months we also had an opportunity to compare content of “The Long Walk” with the reality. We discovered that there are a lot of mistakes in Rawicz’s book. I do not want to make a register of errors but some of them are so obvious that I just have to mention them. First of all Mongolia is still a nomadic country and definitely it was even more nomadic half a century ago. For centuries the most common Mongolian shelter is “ger” – round movable tent. When Mongols move looking for the new grasslands for their herds they just fold their tent and change living place. Contrary to Rawicz’s opinion houses with flat roofs were popular in Tibet but not in Mongolia…
The Gobi desert is not just a big dune. It’s not Lawrence’s style Sahara with sandy mountains glittering in the sunshine. In its biggest parts it is flat, rocky plain without plants and extremely little inhabited. But Gobi is also one of the most diverse deserts in the world. There are also deep grassy gorges, semi-deserts and high mountains. But it is not possible to walk through Gobi for a week or two without any water supplies. Temperatures there reach 55°C degrees and in such conditions traveler gets dehydrated very quickly and is dead after two/three days. We were drinking three bottles of water a day and in spite of it we were getting dehydrated extremely quickly. Our noses were bleeding, lips cracking and our minds totally focused on two simple things: water and shade which can protect us from the burning sun. Water is essential for survival.
The Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world with famous colossuses: Qomolangma, Annapurna and Kanchanjunga; the land of eternal snow and steep, rocky ridges. Summits that have become the obsession for dozens of adventurer souls with whom many died trying to reach their dreams. When British mountaineer George Mallory was asked: “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest”, he simply replied: “Because it’s there”. He vanished during this attempt but the question if he was able to conquest the peak is remains open. “The Long Walk” descriptions of going over the Himalayas are the literary record of the mythological idea of mystical Roof of The World.
There is myth and there is reality. In fact, it is possible to cross the Himalayas without any climbing. There are of course huge inaccessible summits but at the same time there are also wide, vast passes that can be reached, using the modern word, trekking. The Nathu La Pass between Tibet and Indian Sikkim has been a caravan route for hundreds of years. Over 3,000 of British Soldier, commanded by colonel Younghusband, crossed it during the British Expedition to Tibet. If they could do it why should it have been a problem for the small group of seven wanderers? We cycled through the Himalayas and surprisingly it was one of the easiest parts of our journey. Tibet itself with its hurricane winds, low temperatures and constant uphill roads was much more challenging.
So as for the Gobi, Mongolia, the Himalayas –we were there, we saw it, we experienced it. And I can say that, to my disappointment, at least this part of the “Long Walk” was written by somebody who has never been there…
It requires a deep, professional knowledge to properly understand the meaning of evidence gathered in the case of Rawicz/Glinski dispute. To my mind evidence about Slavomir Rawicz and also the serious mistakes in the book itself clearly support the theory that he did not escape from the GULAG. Nonetheless it is unquestionable merit of Rawicz that thanks to his book the whole world has heard about Long Walk. If he had not written it, maybe we would have never known about Great Escape. As for the author of “The Long Walk”, his contribution was to publicize this incredible story.
On the other hand, I met Witold Glinski at his home in UK. I made an interview-documentary movie about him for Polish public TV. We were talking with Glinski for three days, asking him many, many questions trying to find out if he was telling the truth. It occurred that his story was very coherent and full of details that seem to be difficult to process. Moreover, his speech was extremely emotional and it was obvious that he must have been personally engaged in this story.
It is important to stress that he is very old and also bed-ridden. He has been blind for a few years, and he has recently undergone a major surgery. It is hard to imagine that this man in his age can lie in such a convincing and precise way. Since this meeting I have been strongly convinced that Witold Glinski is the real hero of “The Long Walk”. But… doubts remain. The reason lies in the crucial time frame. There is no evidence which might prove that Glinski is a conman. Although there is also no crucial proof that can definitely settle this argument. We just need the documents which confirm that such a prisoner escaped from labour camp. They have not been found yet. However, it’s possible that they would never be discovered because a lot of documents from Lagier’s administration vanished or destroyed. It concerns especially the prison camps which were not gathered in bigger “camp groups” (e.g. Siewwostlag governed by Dalstroj Company in Kolyma range) and which functioned like independent units. To the best of my knowledge almost all Lagiers in Yakutia were such an “independent entities” so very often there is no evidence of their existence, not mentioning the register of their prisoners.
In Yakutsk we met with historian from Yakutia University and he gave us the register of Lagiers in the Republic of Sacha with the map of its localization attached. After a few weeks we reached the forgotten labour camp in the middle of taiga which was not indicated or in the register or on the map. How many more unknown Lagiers is waiting deep in the wilderness for a discoverer? We do not know it and maybe we will never get to know because they disappear extremely quickly destroyed by swamps, weather conditions and seasonal taiga fires.
The History Strikes Back
The Siberia; the distant and dangerous world almost unknown for the most of Europeans but for us, Polish people, Siberia is something more than just a fascinating, sinister Land of the East. It is place where thousand of our compatriots were imprisoned and murdered by the communistic regime. It is some-kind of cursed land. Solzhenitsyn’s “The GULAG Archipelago” has a very tangible meaning for Poles. Actually, this Archipelago is the part of our history therefore it is also a part of us as a nation.
However, I do not like martyrdom and I hate grieving over past tragedies. I prefer to talk about the history in the modern way, show it as a fascinating adventure with great heroes. Especially, taking into consideration that the evil was defeated, USSR collapsed and dozens of nations regained their sovereignty. That is the point of “The Long Walk”. It is great, romantic story about freedom, which should be something familiar to us but is sometimes not. It is not only an adventurous story about surviving in the extreme severe conditions. It is a more universal tale about fighting with the totalitarian system which was designed to change individuals into the slaves. The essence of this story is that these people won! Seven starving and exhausted men defeated the whole NKWD machinery of violence.
I am not a historian, and I do not feel qualified enough to evaluate the authenticity of historical documents. In fact, it was not my aim as an explorer to resolve this dispute. “The Long Walk” and Witold Glinski are the symbols of undeniable will of survival who became a free man. They are first of all symbols of Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities that suffer from tyranny of insane dictators who built the GULAG Archipelago. American journalist, Anne Applebaum says in her book “Gulag”: This book was not written “so that will not happen again” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies have had, and will continue to have, a profound appeal to many millions of people”. I hope that Long Walk Plus Expedition will contribute –even in a small extent, to remind people about the nightmare of totalitarianism. I do not know if it will change anything. Probably it will not, but at least we have tried.
Article on ExWeb about their Expedition
Previous article on Mikael Strandberg´s homepage with comments on the subject
Article about Sylvain Tesson, a French adventurer who has done a similar walk.
Discussion at the bottom, the comment page, between Tomasz and Richard Rawicz.
Discussion on the net between their families.
Article in the Daily Mirror for Witold Glinski.
Tomasz Grzywaczewski – inhabitant of Lodz, law student out of reason, journalist and traveler out of passion. He ate couscous from one bowl with Berbers in the Atlas Mountains and took Mongolian snuff. The press spokesman of Explorers Festival, one of the biggest in the world festivals of mountains, nature and extreme sports. Regular partner of travel sections in newspapers: “Wprost” and “Dziennik. Gazeta Prawna.” Fascinated by treasures of the Solitary Planet which we will never wholly learn, but which we can try to explore. That’s why he “doesn’t waste time, doesn’t wait” and in his reportages tries to describe and understand reality that surrounds us. He may forget his toothbrush, but he will certainly not forget his notebook and camera. He detests routine, and feels the best on the way, when everyday is a new adventure and challenge. In his life and expeditions, in accordance with the words of Robert Frost, from “two roads diverged in a wood” he chooses “the one less traveled by.”
It is unfortunate that Tomasz Grzywaczewski did not mention of my correspondence with him, and also with Director of the Festivalgor, copies were forwarded to Mr.Grzywaczewski.
Both gentlemen received copies from the Polish, Russian, and British archives with the dates, and the age of Witold Glinski which automatically excluded him from the possibility of being in the area of Yakutsk in February 1941. Just for information, Witold Glinski was 14 years old at the time, and he was then in the 5th year at school in the Archagielsk region of Russia, and not 4500km distant Yakutsk. I knew him there because I was also there, and for almost 10 months we lived in the same room. His 2 year younger sister Irena was also there. Of course his attendance at that school is not recorded in the archives, but the dates of arriving into exile, and beeing being allowed to leave, are recorded. I have also corresponded with John Dyson with reference to his article in Readers Digest, inboth letters to myself he confirmed that Glinski was at Kriesty, the place of our exile but correction from Readers Digest was not forthcoming. Other point worth mentioning that there already four, or five version of his Long Walk, all originating from Witold Glinski. Some are copletely at variance from the first one, the others in many vital respects. I wish someone will spend a few hours useful research, and does not rely solely on unconfirmed stories.
This is very interesting. You are re-creating something in reality that, perhaps, exists only as myth. At a deeper level, it points out the danger of re-enactments and the perils of exploration history: the desire to see in them lessons about character, commentaries about society, stories with beginnings, climactic challenges, and satisfying denouements. The truth is messy. Or, as you point out, the truth might be somewhere else entirely. Journeys come with no easy lessons. This is the key insight of your essay.
Responding to Mr Gliniecki commentary I would like to admit that we checked abovementioned documents:
a) indeed, Witold Glinski was in Kriesty but it was exile not imprisonment in GULAG. He claims that he was put into Lagier after being allowed to leave the exile destination (Kriesty). It is not a secret because Glinski himself showed us document which confirms that he was in Kriesty.
b) age – the documents from Polish Ministry of Defence (in exile) indicating Glinski’s age might not have been credible. Witold claims that he deliberately lowered his age because it might take effect in financial benefits. There where such cases so Glinski version is absolutely possibly.
c) when we were “interrogating” Glinski he told us a coherent story that was the same as the one described by John Dyson.
Howevere the most important thing is, citing my own article, that: “In fact, it was not my aim as an explorer to resolve this dispute.” I suggested Mr Glinieck that this problem should be resolved by specialists, e.g. historians from Polish Institute of National Remembrance. Only appropriate institutions can give as objective opinion in that matter.
My aim as an explorer was to commemorate all the victims of the GULAG and reminding about the freedom as the highest value. Nothing more and nothing less. Glinsk and “The Long Walk” altogether are the symbols of this value. I do not claim that the truth is on my side, although I am strongly convinced that such an escape really took place.
But the core point is the same: the goal of Long Walk Plus Expedition is to talk about the victims of USSR and on their “example” remind about perils of totalitarian ideologies.
I am the author of the story about Witold Glinski that appeared in the UK edition of Reader’s Digest magazine a few months ago. I can give the following information in answer to various questions. He says he never saw anything like a yeti. He was aged 17 at the time of his escape but this point is complicated by the fact that when he met his long-lost sister in Poland just three or four years ago he discovered that in fact he is two years older than he thought he was. I asked him point-blank about his association as a youth with Mr L.F.Gliniecki and he told me that he didn’t know the name. I did not at all base my faith in Glinski on the reports of the MI5 officer. The story of Mr Rawicz had been told by the BBC and the hoax was established. Glinksi’s story struck me as transparently honest. I did not pay him for his information. He was already an old man and blind and had nothing whatever to gain. When I asked him at the end of about eight days of talking what he could give me as final clinching proof he said simply: “I don’t care whether you believe it or not — I have told my story and I have nothing more to offer.” This was persuasive. There are undoubtedly some vague areas in his story and it’s clear that towards the end of his walk he was ill and disoriented. His memory is now sometimes a little bit rocky but that’s understandable. I found his straight-forward and unvarnished account absolutely compelling and convincing but I have no evidence, as stated in my story.
I just need to add that I am aware of no other versions of Witold’s story and this is confirmed by his children. His lovely wife Joyce sat with us through every minute of our long talks and at the end she said it was the first time she had ever heard much of the story though they have been married some 60 years. As far as I know he dipped into The Long Walk book but never read it.
Fascinating..despite the controversy. In a sense the story becomes more interesting given the controversy, since it’s almost argument for whose perpective is the ‘correct’ one. Yet, as Michael Robinson has said already the truth is always messy particularly since there’s different perspectives at hand and time and memory are an issue. Deconstructing what is fact and what is fiction particularly given the time depth under discussion is always a difficult task. The key insight, as Michael has already said, is that journeys often don’t occur with easy lessons.
Not the Big Walk – More like the Big Lie
After reading the remarkable series of stories and comments appearing here on Mikael’s blog, there can be no doubt that several important facts have been revealed.
First, Bartosz Malinowski, Filip Droszdz and Tomasz Grzywaczewski should be congratulated for the courage and determination it took to complete a recent epic journey which witnessed these three brave young Poles floating down the Lena River, trekking along Lake Baikal and then riding horses and bicycles across the Gobi Desert, before reaching their final destination in Calcutta, India. While there are serious concerns regarding the travel claims attached to their countrymen, Slavomir Rawicz and Witold Glinski, the endurance and valour of this younger generation of Polish travellers is to be strongly commended.
Ironically, on Sunday, December 5th, the Times of London published an article by reporter Jeff Dawson, which focused on film-maker Peter Weir’s efforts to bring Rawicz’s story to the screen. Like many others, the award-winning Weir originally believed the fairy tale woven by Rawicz. Yet Weir admitted to Dawson that he felt “burnt” when evidence conclusively proved that the Rawicz tale was fabricated.
This is why Weir’s resultant movie, entitled The Way Back, is reputedly “inspired rather than based” upon Rawicz’s book, The Long Walk – The True Story of a Trek Freedom.
What makes this situation unique in the annals of recent travel hoaxes is that if Mr. L.F. Gliniecki is correct, and Witold Glinski was in school and not escaping across Siberia when he claims, then there are two fabricated versions of a fictional event.
Thus, events revealed and discussed on Mikael’s blog indicate that neither Rawicz or Glinski made The Long Walk, and that in fact both these gentlemen have perpetrated different versions of The Big Lie.
If this is correct, then it is akin to Pecos Bill calling Paul Bunyan a liar.
What film-maker Weir appears to be aware of is how the Walt Disney studio was publicly humiliated when it tried to convince the public that the Hidalgo Hoax, perpetrated by the notorious Old West charlatan, Frank Hopkins, was “based upon a true story,” as the studio disingenuously claimed. In fact the fantasies being peddled by Disney were so outrageous that they inspired a series of scathing articles which boasted headlines such as Weaving a cinematic lie, Pony Baloney and Liar, Liar, Chaps on Fire.
Nor is Weir the first in authority to be taken in by the clever lies of an elderly deceiver. The respected Western author, J. Frank Dobie, printed Hopkins’ untruths without seeking confirmation. Jack Schaefer, whose stories Shane and Monte Walsh, were made into famous movies, also believed the Hopkins mythology. America’s most famous equestrian magazine, Western Horseman, published them, even though the Library of Congress had warned their reporter that the Hopkins story was false. Finally, award-winning screen-writer, John Fusco, passed on a script for his movie, Hidalgo, starring Viggo Mortensen, to his colleagues at Disney, and they too fell for the Hopkins Hoax.
Luckily, Weir seems smarter than Disney, and his new movie isn’t claiming to be what it is not. It’s entertainment, not history, and to his credit, he says so.
Thus, while there seems to no longer be any doubt that Rawicz invented his tale of an escape from Siberia, recent revelations on Mikael’s blog now indicate that Glinski may have also invented a similar tale.
When confronted with this upsetting possibility, Tomasz Grzywaczewski said, “It is hard to imagine that this man in his age can lie in such a convincing and precise way.”
Likewise the respected British journalist, John Dyson, has also stated that he too took Glinksi’s advanced age into account.
Sadly, during the Long Riders’ Guild intensive search into the Hopkins Hoax, we spoke to eyewitnesses who met Frank Hopkins in the early 1940s. They too said the same thing. Even though Hopkins’ stories, about saving Billy the Kid from the Apaches, galloping from Germany to Mongolia in winter, having tea on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with Queen Victoria, etc., seemed fantastic, they couldn’t believe that the elderly gentleman in front them was capable of boldly lying in such a cold-blooded and deliberate manner.
But he was and he did.
In fact, other Old West liars, such as Bronco Charlie Miller, also intentionally used their advance years to reinforce the web of deceit they used to ensnare the unwary.
Thus, when the story varies from one telling to another, as it appears to do with Glinski, then age is not a defence. Ask the 90-year-old Scottish Long Rider George Patterson to recount how he rode over the Himalayas in the winter of 1949 and his tale is the same every time. We remember the truth, especially when it is seared in our minds.
It is sad to think that Glinski lied to these young Polish travellers, for if any of them had lost their lives, then their blood would have been on his hands. This is all the more ironic because they, in good faith, had set out to prove him a hero.
The true documented heroes of this story are neither the defrocked Slavomir Rawicz, nor the now exposed Witold Glinski.
While this search for the truth should go on, what we in the exploration community need to recall is that the “core point” of the journey made by Tomasz Grzywaczewski and his two friends was to draw attention to the victims of totalitarian ideologies.
Thus, if there is lotus floating above this pond of self-serving lies, it is this simple truth.
Three brave young Poles named Bartosz Malinowski, Filip Droszdz and Tomasz Grzywaczewski really DID make the Long Walk, apparently for the first time in history.
CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS
I just had these news sent to me, there´s been an update of the BBC programme at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00wdcts/The_Long_Walk/ Well worth listening to.
My comments to John Dyson. In his 5-th June 2009 letter to me JD states “The nub of the matter is that he (Witold Glinski) worked in a gang at Kriesty …..in early spring 1941. Around February/March he went alone to Sachunja where he contacted and stayed with his father, then returned to help his mother come” . In his letter of the 21 June 2009 JD followed ,”Of course I was aware that Glinski was in Kriesty..” The problem here is that further on JD states that “They ( That is Glinski and the others), were coming into the area of Yakutsk, the coldest inhabited place on earth and the autumn 1940 was turning…” Further on, “During the dawn parade in February 1941, the commendant…” JD can not deny that those were his words. The problem for JD is this, both Kriesty and Szachunja are a mere 4500km to the West of Yakutsk, it would have been a physical impossibility for Glinski to be at both these places at the same time. You can easily find Szachunja on the map between Niz.Novogorod (then Gorkiy) and Kirov, Kriesty as such have disappeared, but were near Noza, or Wierchnaya Toyma. At the Kriesty Polish Cemetery still exist, as it happens I have located it, and on the 30-th October a beatiful Commemorative Plate has been unveiled there. TV and many personalities were present, but this is not under discussion here.
T.Grzywaczewski accepted Glinski’s story without any checks, or bothering to consult archives, although I have provided him with copies from Polish, Russian and British archives in connection with Glinski’ exile in Russia, and also his real age. T.Grzywaczewski, considered that Glinski was an honest man, and that was enough for him, however it authomatically made me a dishonest man because I was claiming that I knew him in Kriesty, also my place of exile, and that he slept in the bed next but one from me, from September 1940 till June 1941, and therefore could not have been escaping from some where else. In the Polish Archives my name appears on the page 599, his on the following page 600. I also know that T.Grzywaczewski did not telephone archives to confirm Glinski’ age, I gave him telephone number, because apparently no one phoned them with an enquiry obout Glinski.
Linda Willis’ book whch is partially based on the interview with Glinski,is completely at variance with whatever Glinski said to others previously. She also claims that he was completely honest, I wonder which honesty was more honest.
Now, the Glinski story confirmed by archives states, (and my own personal knowledge of Witold Glinski) that he would have been born in the second part of 1926, (hence 14 years old during his escape from Yakutsk in Feb.1941) that he arrived into exile in Kriesty on the 24 February 1940, was released 2-nd September 1941 with travel documents to Szachunja.
As I stated Yakutsk from where he was supposed to have escaped in Feb.1941 is mere 4500km to the East of Szachunja, or Kriesty.
T.Grzywaczewski can not produce a single confirmation that would give credence to the reality of his statements, except of course for speculation.
John Dyson story condemns itself, and additionally also suffers from the lack of confirmation.
This story is just getting more and more interesting! For this reason, and the enormous interest this has caused, I am bringing aboard CuChullaine O´Reilly, well known investigative journalist and explorer to help me develop this story and check all known facts.
Mr Ginieckis says that from his personal knowledge Glinski would have been born in 1926. This is nonsense. In 1943 Glinski arrived in the UK and we have pictures of him as a young soldier. You can see from the pictures that he is older than 17. More like 19 or 20 perhaps. This means he would have been about 17 when he was sent to the camp and about 18 when he escaped.
Glinski says that when he went to visit his sister in Poland he learned for the first time that he was not the age he thought he was. He was wrong by two years but I can’t remember in which direction the error was made. I think he said the error was made by the authorities. The age he was given would have made him exactly the same age as his sister which was clearly impossible. I have only just learned of Linda Willis’s book and I will read it immediately.
Yes,..I’ve been watching the posting too and I’m not surprised that there’s so many opinions about this trip since it sounds controversial from all . The humans are known after 30 years to have a hard time remembering details and in fact the human brain can ‘invent’ memories to suit specific circumstances later on. I don’t know where I remember hearing this but I think that it was probably when I took a graduate course that considered information gathered from oral histories, ethnography and the historic and archaeological record. We discussed the difficulties of trying to combine information from these sources specifically to confirm, or deny or establish that a specific event or series of events took place over a long time ago.
Anyhow the idea of traditions or stories being invented to explain a traditon is not new – I’m sure that you know this – and they have been discussed at length in a collection of short essays in a book called “The Invention of Tradition” edited by E. Hobsbawm and T. Ranger published in 1983 by Cambridge University Press. Here’s a link to it below in google books:
To Alicia Colson and others. I am only interested in facts, not opinions. If someone wishes to present some new facts, please do. At the moment I did not see anything worth replying to. My account stays, and will remain so.
People are so keen to discredit The Long Walk they will believe and print anything.
Dear L.F Gliniecki and Richard Rawicz, the son of Slavomir. I just want to add that me and CuChullaine have asked you several times to present your facts for and against. But, so far nothing. Anyone have the right to have an opinion here, as long as it is decent and within the limits of what we are talking about. Alicia´s comment is very valid, indeed. I have also noticed something of interest. It would also be very interesting to find out whether you two know each other, since your comments follow each other in time like you would be brothers sitting next to each other. Mr Gliniecki, we are still waiting for your proof. M
I have never heard of L.F Glinieki thankyou.
I wrote a story yesterday at ExWeb about Karl Bushby, who will give all of you a bit of perspective. http://www.explorersweb.com/trek/news.php?id=19823 Next week uChullaine O´Reilly and myself will have some really interesting info for all of you and everyone involved. Thanks all of of you, and you are many, many, who have read this article. M
A nice piece, Mikael. Hollywood never worries about the accuracy of movies – prefering to look for a leitmotif. The recent epic expedition should be lauded. A spirit of adventure is where we all have synergy.
Those who are unhappy with the ‘proof’ elements of the original claim should start with Allen Johnson’s highly commendable book “The Historian & Historical Evidence”. Many other old-timers tales may yet prove to be contentious…
What about the other three survivors of the long walk, are any of them alive to shed any light on this? – Or if they have passed, did any of them ever dispute the book or write down who really made the trip with them? – This seems like a pretty obvious thing to check, but I find no mention of it!
Hi Wild Bill, Nope, that is another major problem…none of them have ever, ever surfaced. M
In the effort to confirm or disconfirm Witold Glinski’s story, has a thorough search been made of the British army records for a report of the Gurkha patrol which Glinski claims to have encountered?
Finding wandering Poles in northern India escaped from the Soviet Gulag does not happen every day and undoubtedly would provoke considerable attention. Presumably someone responsible must have filed some contemporaneous paperwork describing the incident and I am guessing that it must be easier to search the files in London or New Delhi than those in Yakutsk or Moscow.
Such a report would go a considerable distance towards substantiating Glinski’s story and its very absence would provoke scepticism.
A further thought extending my earlier post: Has a thorough search been made of the British military intelligence archives for a report on Glinski and his fellow escapees?
Surely someone in British military intelligence would have interrogated such arrivals, if for no other reason than to ascertain that they were not spies. A contemporaneous report would have been filed and, I believe, military intelligence records tend to be well preserved. Does such a report exist?
Again, if it does, then that would strongly such the truth of Glinski’s story. If it does not, then it would suggest the opposite.
Dear William, the American researcher Linda Willis, and the BBC through Hugh Levinson have put a lot of effort in browsing through these archives finding the people involved, but even though they have discovered some facts, most people involved are dead today. So they didn´t really get anywhere. There´s also still a debate where they actually entered British India.
However, do not miss the articles beginning the 3rd now. It will shed some light!
The young American Dave Anderson tried 2004 to find out, by doing a walk, whether Slavomir Rawicz had done the walk or not. Read here at http://dea-media.com/?page_id=697
Thank you for your quick responses. I take it from your replies that the answers to my two questions are (1) the appropriate archives were searched but (2) the desired documents were not found. Is my interpretation correct?
I look forward with great anticipation to your January 3 disclosures.
Have a happy new year.
I came to this page by accident and after watching “the way back” movie. I am not a person who can say if the story is true or not but my father was relocated with his family from Poland to Sowrudnik in Siberia and lived there from 1940 to 1944 when he came back with Polish Army organized there. My father wrote a book about that part of his life (not published ). If I cannot say that the Way back is a true story, I can say that many what happened is possible. As for a problem of inconsistent age of Glinski. What I remember from my father book is that when he got to Siberia with his mother, father, 2 sisters and little brother, he was 16. To survive he went to work in a forest to cut trees and he lied that he is 2 years older than he really was to be allowed to work. He was not in a prison in Siberia but he experienced all very harsh life condition like we saw in the Way back movie. He survived yellow fiver, tifus, he almost froze. He worked in a gold mine there. He mentioned not eating for 3 days, working all day in a forest on a piece of bread only. He worked in minus 55 C temp. I am happy that the movie “The way back” is already in the cinemas ( I saw it yesterday). Movie is very good, and beautifully made (landscapes). I treat this movie as a remainder of how difficult was for my father to survive that harsh years in Siberia. Movie is marked National Geographic Entertainment. It means that there are many true things told, and real places shown. That is all.
Many thanks for sharing your father’s story with us. His account has the ring of truth. We should all be pleased to know that he survived his mistreatment and lived to tell about it. I wish you luck in having his memoir published. It should be. It is the sort of tale which ought to have been made into a movie. Sadly many millions of others had similar stories to tell.
Please remember that when I and others discuss the historical veracity of “The Long Walk” and “The Way Back” we are not questioning whether horror stories such as your father’s happened. Rather we are striving to ensure that the accurate historical record of the Gulag does not become entangled with fictional tales.
Best wishes to you and your family.
I saw ” The way back” in the cinema. Great movie. I greatly recommend. I also bought a book. Didnt read yet, but I am going.
Hi William, thank you so much for your nice comment. It was very important for me to see
that movie “The way back”. I saw it in California and I was moved.
I understand the lack of authentic records from the Soviet end of the journey. But surely at the Indian end there would have been some documents created indicating who had arrived from Siberia. Have those records been found?
I am re-reading “The Long Walk”. and am disappointed to find it a hoax. True or not, it is a great story. It has inspired me to attempt the “El Camino” walk in Spain in Sept. 2011. Iwill be almost 70, the, distance is 798km. I have thought, if these half starved men can walk to India, I can do this. I’m glad there seems to be some factual background to it. I wonder if hospital records in India have survived. Regards John.
I haven’t even read the book yet, but I think references from there would be the greatest for inconsistencies. As far as the USSR documents, I could see those being fake to hide the escape, yet none of you mention this? Is there records of the other three? And what are the names of the people Witold Gli?ski had with him? Same for both? If so I find that very stange that the author substitutes his name in the story instead of adding another character, especially since your stealing it, but I could see it too since he’s the guide (in movie, as I said, haven’t read the book yet). The records of the others in the camp? Were they ‘released’ too? Date of escape and release Rawicz? I could possibly see Rawicz being reportedly ‘released’ when he escaped because his status as a Polish soldier. AND Rawicz heard the story from Witold Gli?ski after everything, but was in same camp too? Strange, maybe Witold Gli?ski’s lying, but after reading some of the accounts of interviewing him, I would doubt that. Still people do
Newspapers maybe? Possibly the greatest escape from POWs would be recorded. If told, which Witold Gli?ski seems to be a simple, honorable man that wouldn’t have gone telling the world ‘his’ story (reffering to interviews). Rawicz did write the book, so he seems like one to do the opposite. Never read the book though, what year did ‘he’ get back? That would be the time to look for an article.
A reader just sent me this interesting article about another possible WW II fraud, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1375018/Denis-Avey-broke-Auschwitz-expose-Holocaust-account-insult.html A possible.
I read “The Long Walk” a few years ago and I just saw the film. But how did Rawicz know Glinski’s story? I gather that their stories are very similar. Did those two men cross paths at some point? I also read on the Internet: “How did Rawicz get his hands on Glinskis story? Glinski says the most likely explanation is that Rawicz read his account of the escape, in official papers that he found in the Polish Embassy in London during the war.” What papers are these that Glinski mentions? Has anyone researched the Polish Embassy papers? Glinski appears to be saying that he made (or someone made?) an official report of his trip during the war. If there is an official report in the London Polish Embassy papers, it would seem to back up Glincki’s story.
The difference between an “escape ” vs “a release” may have been an adroit prison official covering his butt after losing six prisoners. Not only would the release story protect him from his own possible punishment but also attempt to save face among the prison population and stifle future escape attempts. In reality I accept these stories as just that and enjoy them as fiction until proven otherwise. My old Grandpa told us wild we tales and we loved them but never believed them as true. he would have been disappointed if he did.
I have just finished reading The Long Walk. I couldn’t put it down! I have to admit, that while reading it, I found some of it difficult to believe, particularly the part about the Gobi desert. Heat stroke and dehydration can kill a hiker who is in excellent health and these men were extremely compromised. That being said, as a cancer survivor, I can personally attest to what a person is capable of when the will to live kicks in. I put the discrepancy down to time and memory error. It’s disconcerting to hear that two people claim the same story. I agree with Colleen, if Mr. Rawicz learned of the story while working in the Polish embassy in London then those papers should still be available. I learned of the possibility of Mr. Rawicz story being untrue when I was two-thirds through the book and while it made me sad to wonder if it all really happened as it was written; I have been made aware of a terrible injustice that was done to many people. It remains an inspiring lesson.
A reader just sent me this link at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1023114/board/thread/181495264
Hi there, for those who may be interested, I visited Slavomir Rawicz in the late 1990s and recorded an interview with him, as I wanted to meet the man in person and ask whether what he wrote was true. I empathise with peoples’ obsession to find out the truth as I too was infected with this desire to know if it really happened. I came away from that interview wondering how a human being can give talks to groups about a fabricated story and respond to letters from fans about what seemingly happened. He also had a folder filled with newspaper clippings about yetis which I found fascinating, but it got me no nearer to my quest for the truth all those years ago.
I have a huge amount of respect for the BBC in finally putting to rest my questions over the book’s veracity. Well done and many thanks at last to the researchers there who found concrete evidence.
Mikael, I just read this story about your trip at http://www.adventureworldmagazine.com/pdf/2011/issue14.pdf and suddenly I understand why you have involved yourself with the Long Walk! It would be of great interest to find out what you and other explorers make out of it all. Is i possible at all? Please write such an article, Mikael! George Sutter
No Way Back – Poland’s WWII Indian
odyssey by Nick Hodge.
The Way Back based on best-selling book The Long Walk by the late Slawomir Rawicz, has reignited the debate about whether a small group of gulag escapees crossed the Himalayas to freedom during World War II. Yet regardless of whether Rawicz or fellow veteran Witold Glinski undertook the odyssey – as many as 5000 Poles did find freedom in India, Their legacy remains little known, passing almost unnoticed during recent media coverage of the movie.
Teresa Glazer, (nee Kurowska), the young daughter of an army officer, was one of hundreds of thousands of Poles arrested with their families after the Red Army extended its grip over Eastern Poland in 1939. Densely packed cattle wagons whisked prisoners to far-flung corners of the Soviet Union – Siberia, where deportees
were set to work, be it felling trees in forests, laying rail tracks or digging in state-run mines.
“There was little hope beyond survival until the next day,” says Glazer, who found herself in a remote labor settlement in the midst of the Siberian forest. Her grandmother soon perished.
In the late summer of 1941 there was talk of an amnesty, of liberation, and of a free Polish government in London.
Stalin had indeed been compelled to sign an amnesty with Poland, after Hitler broke his own pact with Moscow, streaking into Soviet-occupied territory in June 1941.
Russia agreed to a Polish army being raised on Soviet soil. General Wladyslaw Anders, himself emerging from a Moscow prison cell, quickly began pushing for full evacuation from Soviet territory, including men, women and children.
“The prospect of being able to get out of this god-forsaken land brightened the spirits of even those on the brink of death,” Glazer recounts.
However, news of the amnesty had not been communicated to many labor settlements. Even when it had, Poles invariably had to make their own escape.
By land and water Teresa Glazer’s family set off on a raft that they had bound together. But the going was treacherous, and the craft soon had to be abandoned. Eventually a new plan was hatched.
Teresa, then eight years old, was sent on in advance with the go-between, until her family was able to catch up. She boarded a boat, a few coins hidden in a pouch concealed under her jumper.
The entire family was later reunited hundreds of miles away in Uzbekistan. Thousands of other Poles were not so fortunate. Many collapsed of exhaustion or illness.
Teresa’s family joined the last transport of civilians being taken by trucks to Iran. Many women and children were offered the chance of respite from the storm in India. They were taken by boat to temporary camps near Karachi. However, the Poland that the Poles hoped for was destined to remain in exile. With first hand experience of the Soviet system, the majority of the refugees were reluctant to return to Poland when news emerged that the Red Army had overrun Poland in 1945. A further bitter blow was Britain and America’s withdrawal of recognition of the Polish-government-in-exile. India itself was in the throes of upheaval, with the British now on the way out. Teresa Glazer, mirroring the path of so many of Anders’ soldier was given asylum in the United Kingdom, where she
remains until today, as a retired history teacher.
Teresa Glazer is the co-editor of a collective memoir on Poland’s wartime ties with India. The English edition was published in 2009: Poles in India 1942-48, based on archive documents and personal
Thank you for this interesting information and moving story.
As I trust you understand, since your February 4, 2011 posting concerning Siberian escapees reaching India in 1942, many readers of this blog have wanted to see your documentary evidence. If it is not too much trouble, could you please share with us your publication plans for this material? Thank you for considering my request.
I feel duped! The first time I read this book I took it at face value as a true story and marveled at it. I re-read it last week, and before I reached the escape from the Gulag I started questioning things like:
– How believable is it that the Commandant’s wife was a major source of encouragement, not to mention aiding in providing materials?
– How quickly an escape plan was put together. He never mentioned examining the map that he saw in the Commandant’s office. They never considered bringing some sort of canteen, or something to carry water. I think that would be the first consideration for someone planning a trip as long as they were.
– In the short time he was in the ski factory, they not only perfected and built skis but shipped them to the Soviet army somewhere, who tested them out and asked for more. Yet the only way to get to the camp was by walking for weeks. Unless the Commandant personally flew them to those waiting troops.
Then I started doubting the survival in the Gobi without water for over a week. I don’t think that’s humanly possible.
When I looked online and noticed other skeptics I realized I wasn’t alone in questioning the veracity of this tall tale.
I have some questions for those who have tried to establish whether this was a true story or not. The names of the other escapees are in the book – were any of those names (esp. the Polish soldiers) found where the 1942 release papers for Rawicz were supposedly discovered. Presumably, if those prisoners were real, there should be some record of them somewhere.
As to the story of Rawicz stealing Glinski’s story – did Rawicz ever work in the Polish Embassy? Could he have gotten hold of a copy any other way? Could Glinski’s papers from the Embassy be published or available somewhere?
Peter, i will through these questions out, but do check all artivels and comments on http://www.mikaelstrandberg.com/the-long-walk-articles/ and they will answer quite a lot!
When I saw this movie I was so inspired that I cannot express the effect it had on me. I was also initially impressed that it was based on a ‘true’ story, then when I discovered that it was not so ‘true’ it did not bother me. What is true is that there are many stories of peoples’ amazing journeys against all odds and that is what counts for me. These are the stories that I want to see in movies and read in books. I have just finished my own journey. I did a cross-disciplinary PhD in environmental science and sociology with no prior experience of sociology. I often referred to my years in the wilderness (with little or no help) as akin to being in the north-western deserts of China with no language, few rations, an outdated map and a faulty compass. I did not know that the journey of my PhD would change the way I see the world forever. All great journeys inspire us. The first recorded one is of The Odyssey. Does it matter that it may not be accurate and has been embellished and altered over the hundreds of years before it was finally recorded? These stories ignite that part of my soul that keeps me going against all odds and makes me celebrate the strength of the human spirit and capacity. Thank you to Mikael Strandberg for your articles and thanks to Tomasz Grzywaczewski for your amazing feat of undertaking that journey. You inspire me as well.
I’ve been reading a lot about the Gulag and wonder how the story of the German pow Clemens Forell fits in anyone’s thoughts. J.Pierson-Champlin,Minnesota
I want to publish a book called THE LONG LONG WALK TO FREEDOM
It strikes me as appalling how clearly an unbiased so called ‘Journalist’ boasts of covering the truth whilst himself having been fooled by a liar who fed him a yarn to prop himself up on during a convenient ‘Film’ release which naturally was to attract some attention due to it’s history.
I came across this article several years ago and spent a little time looking into the few facts available where possible and it seems that there is one reason alone for this flawed behavioural approach to trying to bully the facts into the minds of those who show interest, but claim to be open to variation and corrupt information which over time becomes cloudy or uncertain in the minds of those who lived through their past memories, and that is because as it appears, the tale came undone long before it truly started.
One which I dare say this ‘Witold Glinski’ and conveniently his family with little to offer other than puppy eyes and a keen eye for opportunity pop out from the woodwork at the first possible opportunity. And, not through providing any better accreditation than others before, but seemingly by providing an opportunity to damn and try to discredit someone who for over 50 years previously they watched take the glory for their tale. Really!?
It strikes me that until the opportunity to cash in on a similarly rich vein of affiliation by proximity to a film came out covering a subject to which the person they seem to discredit so freely is no longer alive to defend himself is just poor.
Furthermore, evidence regarding the author of ‘The Long Walk’ which came out since didn’t provide any more concrete proof to Slavomir Rawicz’s tale being any less valid either and as many people who fled for their lives have done, details become an extension of survival, painted over by their minds in times of duress.
There have been issues to which his family clearly state that they are similarly keen to find out the facts as they know little other than what has been uncovered themselves, by sources however I don’t recall any hostility to what they know or don’t know.
I don’t recall Mr Rawicz above or his family ever claiming to know the true facts about the so called story which was written, how could they, however I do know they didn’t try and cash in by disrespecting others and as it happens the information as uncovered by the BBC was neither conclusive in many facts as much had been lost and was open, as most things during this period.
They grew up with a history of bedside stories to which they are familiar I suspect as did Witold’s, however these don’t make them any less true, I just find it shocking how in this and other articles, he came out and disrespected everyone in a lame bid to have his 15 minutes of celebrity when it turned out no more valid than myself escaping a Gulag whilst being just 41 years of age too.
Maybe he’ll wait for another author to die before attempting to cash in on their glory too, better luck next time.
Obviously this is a late comment and probably will fade into the abyss of the internet, but I’m not going to let the previous Mr Philips comment so negatively and disrespectfully on a topic he knows nothing about and discredit Mr Glinski, who has now sadly passed away.
I am an Irish man and live in Ireland with my wife Ania, who is Polish, and is the great niece of Witold. Ania was directly involved with Witolds wife Joyce in the reuniting of Witold and his sister in Poland after a decades of seperation. She is quite easily able to give the full background of the events and the explanations for the so called ‘flaws’ in Witolds ‘story’.
What has raised my ire is the claim that Witold was cashing in or looking for fame in any way shape or form from either the deeds he did, or the film that was made. He wasn’t, and never did.
There is nothing to be gained from my trying to convince those who do not believe. I am a complete neutral as is my wife in this and the pure honestly and emotion in the way she speaks of this man is worth more than any lie detector test ever could be.
I just wanted to record my own belief that Mr Glinski was an honest, honourable and humble man. And may he Rest in Peace.