20 September 2015
The saga of The Long Walk, the escape of seven prisoners from a soviet prison camp near Yakutsk (Siberia) in 1941, have been presented by now in many shades of grey by either Slavomir Rawicz in the book “The Long Walk” published in 1956, or from 2009 onwards by Witold Glinski in a number of different versions, diametrically different from Rawicz’s version, and from each subsequent version which Glinski was presenting to the willing reporters and others. There were also three or four other versions with which Glinski favoured Linda Willis for her book “Looking for Mr.Smith” published in November 2010.
It may be even appropriate to say that Glinski was extraordinarily generous to his interviewers by providing each of them with a different version, or versions, of his “experiences”. His first published version which unexpectedly descended upon the readers, was presented by John Dyson in May 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest under an alluring title:
“The Real Long Walk”, with a subtitle “Fifty years on, a mystery is solved and a hero is revealed”.
Despite the suggestive title of the above article, not a single fact which referred to Glinski’s stay in exile, including his escape from an unspecified labour camp near Yakutsk had confirmation in archives, or from any other credible source. In fact it was just a piece of fiction presented as a true historical event that never took place. However, the lack of confirmation did not prevent British and other press to accept the Long Walk described in Reader’s Digest article to be a true historic fact.
It did not take long for this story to take root in his native Poland, after all it concerned the Polish man Witold Glinski. The previous contender for the hero of the Long Walk, Slawomir Rawicz, the author of the book The Long Walk, has already been discarded on the basis of unearthed documentation by the Russian International Organization Memorial which confirmed that Rawicz, as a member of The Polish Army, has left Russia through Krasnovodsk and Caspian sea to reach Persia in April 1942.
A young Pole, Tomasz Grzywaczewski, on the basis of Reader’s Digest article, decided to organize Expedition the Long Walk with a declared aim to follow the route taken by Witold Glinski outlined in Reader’s Digest article.
In the first days of March 2010, over two months before Tomasz Grzywaczewski and his two companions left for Expedition the Long Walk in May 2010, they visited Witold Glinski at his home in Cornwall, England. Piotr Zychowicz a reporter for newspaper “Rzeczpospolita”, and a Polish TV crew arrived at the same time.
Nine months later, on 10 December 2010, on Mikael Strandberg’s blog Grzywaczewski recalls the above visit and writes:
“he has made one of the most epic escapes in world history. His name was Witold Glinski”, and:
“I thought we have to do something to remind people in Poland and around the world that the leader of escapees was a Polish hero. We wanted to show a fascinating part of our history cannot be forgotten”. And further on:
“We just need documents which confirm that such a prisoner escaped from labour camp. They have not been found yet.” But in his book <Through the Wild East – 8000 km in the footsteps of famous escape from the gulag> published in November 2012, Tomasz Grzywaczewski writes:
<however, if this story is untrue the whole idea (of Expedition the Long Walk) would not had any sense at all.>
He continues to recall his visit: “It occurred that his (Glinski’s) story was very coherent and full of details that seem to be difficult to process.”, and later on he confirmed this statement once more. However, four months later this coherent story became: <he related his experiences in fragments from which we later compiled a story.> (!)
When, still on 10 December 2010 Grzywaczewski was reminded that a month earlier he received archival copies and other information which contradicted most of his above article, he admitted:
“indeed Witold Glinski was at Kriesty but it was exile not imprisonment in GULAG. He claims that he was put into Lager (labour camp) after he was allowed to leave exile destination (Kriesty). It is not a secret because Glinski himself showed us document which confirms that he was at Kriesty.”
Dyson’s story in Reader’s Digest, which was the basis for Grzywaczewski to organize and to undertake Expedition the Long Walk, did not mention Kriesty, or allowed Glinski to be anywhere near Kriesty. Also the date that Glinski was allowed to leave Kriesty was 2 September 1941, seven months after his supposed escape from a labour camp near Yakutsk (a copy of this document can be seen on Mikael Strandberg’s blog). In addition to the above, Yakutsk is about 5000 km in a straight line east of Kriesty, or about 7000 km by available routes. Dyson’s description of Glinski’s arrival to Yakutsk in autumn 1940 in his Reader’s Digest article:
“They were coming into area of Yakutsk, the coldest inhabited place on earth, an autumn 1940 was turning into one of the coldest winters on record.” [The date of autumn of 1940 compromises even more Dyson’s version in Reader’s Digest.]
Another of Grzywaczewski’s points is Glinski’s age. He explains:
“age – the document from the 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 were such cases so Glinski version is absolutely possible”. (?!).
[However, all known documentation confirms that Glinski was born in 1926 and would have been just 14 years old while escaping from a labour camp near Yakutsk.]
The above contradictions alone were sufficient to reconsider veracity of Dyson’s story in Reader’s Digest, and would have excluded possibility that Glinski could have taken part in any escape from an unspecified labour camp near Yakutsk, or taken part in the Long Walk.
Grzywaczewski’s other references to Glinski: he “has made one of the most epic escapes in the world history.” Or: “I thought we have to do something to remind people of Poland and around the world that a leader of escapees was a Polish hero.”
Also, in his book <Through the Wild East – 8000 km in the footsteps of the famous escape from gulag” published in November 2012, Grzywaczewski writes:
<however, if this story is untrue the whole idea (of Expedition the Long Walk) would not have had any sense at all.> (!).
Four months later DZIENNIK III RP published an interview with the members of the Long Walk. Grzywaczewski about Glinski: <This is a man over 90 years old…> [The age of 90 is also attributed to Glinski twice in his book Through the Wild East, accordingly Glinski would have been born in 1919 and not in 1926].
Nevertheless, Grzywaczewski on return from the visit to Glinski in Cornwall was pursuing his aim to promote Glinski as the true Polish hero by using expressions such as:
<Without heroism of people as Mr. Glinski, there would not been free Poland>, and others of the similar meaning.
In general, it may also be said that Grzywaczewski’s book differed sufficiently from Dyson’s article, or any other version of Glinski’s Long Walk, that it can be without difficulty considered as his own, Grzywaczewski’s, version of the Long Walk.
Linda Willis In her book “Looking for Mr. Smith”, published in November 2010, presented at least three versions of Glinski’s stay in exile, all of which differed from Dyson’s versions. However, she also discarded part of Glinski’s archival version which stated that Glinski joined 8 Division of Infantry of the Polish Army on 7 March 1942 (stationed at that time in Russia), presumably on the basis that that information would have not allowed Glinski to take part in the Long Walk. One may assume that this was because Glinski’s presence in the Long Walk was necessary for her to authenticate existence of Mr.Smith, the subject of her book. The effect of this approach leaves Glinski just seven months to get from Kriesty, via Kotlas, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and Calcutta to Pahlevi (Persia). His walk from Yakutsk to Calcutta required 11 months, adding time required to get from Kriesty to Yakutsk, and later from Calcutta to Pahlevi, Persia, plus other incidentals, he would have required in total about 16-18 months. On that basis alone Linda Willis’s book needs to be discarded.
In the Long Walk story there should also be a mention of Piotr Zychowicz and his article on the subject of his interview with Glinski. A few extracts from his article on Glinski’s escape from a labour camp, and his Long Walk:
<During the first week they (the escapees) walked for twenty fours a day without any sleep. Snow was falling nonstop during the day and night, they could see no further than the end of their noses. The temperature was so low that they breathed with difficulty, their legs waded into snow-drifts. Time after time their bodies sunk in the snow-drifts up to their armpits.> With reference to the death of the three Polish officers Glinski says: <To today I cannot forgive myself that I was not able to lead them to freedom.>
On the subject of lack of water in Gobi Desert, Glinski explains: <We had to lick it off the stones.>
In general Piotr Zychowicz’s version to some degree follows and is supportive of Dyson’s story.
Zbigniew Stanczyk’s version, which appeared rather late on his own Internet page, did not provide dates, locations, or any other vital details and as such could not be considered of historical value. For these reasons it does not require consideration. In addition it also to a great extend reminds Linda Willis’s discredited version, and is the only other version besides Linda Willis’s, which claims that Glinski after arrival to Irkutsk was required to walk round the southern end of lake Baikal before proceeding north along the lake’s eastern side to a labour camp located nearer lake Baikal than Yakutsk.
[Note. A fuller comment on Zbigniew Stanczyk’s version may be found on this site but in the Polish language in an article “Dlugi Marsz – Nowa wersja z USA” (The Long Walk – New Version from USA” Link: /cz280346262-5—d322ugi-marsz—nowa-wersja-z-usa.html].
THE ARCHIVES AND OTHER RELIABLE INFORMATION WHICH CONFIRMS WITOLD GLINSKI’S STAY AT KRIESTY IN ARKHANGELSK PROVINCE FROM 24 FEBRUARY 1940 TILL 2 SEPTEMBER 1941, AND THAT HE WAS BORN IN 1926.
(Date 1926 confirms that he would have been 14 years old when undertaking his supposed escape from a labour camp near Yakutsk).
1. The Polish Archives IPN. (Archives of the National Remembrance).
2. Archives of the Arkhangelsk Province.
3. Archives of the Russian International Organization Memorial: Register of the Victims of Political Terror in USSR. (These archives confirmed that Slawomir Rawicz, the author of the Long Walk book published in 1956, was released from a Siberian labour camp on a basis of an amnesty, and left Russia with the Polish Army in April 1942.)
4. Tomasz Grzywaczewski confirmed on 10 December 2010 on Mikael Strangberg’s blog, that during his visit to Glinski in March 2010, over two months before departing for Expedition the Long Walk in the footsteps of Witold Glinski, he was shown information which confirmed Glinski’s stay in exile at Kriesty. Also, that Glinski left Kriesty only after he was given permission to do so (2 September 1941). This information contradicted in all respects Dyson’s version in Reader’s Digest, and was sufficient to negate possibility of Glinski’s escape from an unspecified labour camp near Yakutsk in February 1941.
5. From September 1940 till June 1941 Glinski, and his two years younger sister Irena, shared with me and a few others the same room while attending a Russian school. This is confirmed by Iliona Kobzar in her 2008 dissertation “Polish Exiles”, a year before Glinski’s story appeared in Reader’s Digest.
Additionally, Witold Glinski’s year of birth as 1926 is confirmed in:
6. Archives of The Polish Army in the West. (London).
7. Witold Glinski’s Death Certificate states that he was born on 22 November 1926, and died on 19 April 2013.
8. Polish Wikipedia “Witold Glinski (zeslaniec)” – [an exile], confirms that he was born on 22 November 1926. (He would have been just 14 years old at the time of his supposed escape from a labour camp near Yakutsk with three experienced Polish officers, including Mr. Smith and two others. He also claims that he was the leader of the escapees, a very unlikely possibility.
There is no single reliable information that would undermine the above eight statements.
To complete the Long Walk story it should added that after the publication of his book “Through the Wild East”, Tomasz Grzywaczewski during his meeting with audiences on the subject of Expedition the Long Walk, would assure present that: <Although I am a lawyer I would not bore the audience about the law. My well promising law career was interrupted by a project, but to be more exact a person, or rather a history of a person, of Witold Glinski. This elderly gentleman, in 1940’s escaped from a soviet labour camp near Yakutsk, and walked to Calcutta in India. This was one of the most incredible stories of escape in the Polish history. Although this story was known throughout the western world, this incredible story was still unknown in Poland. Etc.
“It difficult to imagine, the reasoning expressed above, and the persistent elevation of Witold Glinski as a hero of The Long Walk, the event that never took place.”
Copyright Leszek Gliniecki