Polish Cavalry officer Slavomir Rawicz was captured by the Red Army in 1939 during the German-Soviet partition of Poland and was sent to a Siberian Gulag alongside thousands of others who had been caught up in the fighting.
After more than two years of forced labour in Gulag Camp 303, Rawicz and six companions escaped from the camp in the middle of a blizzard in 1941 and headed south, avoiding towns of any kind. The fugitive party included three Polish soldiers, a Latvian landowner, a Lithuanian architect, and an enigmatic US metro engineer called “Mr. Smith”; They were later joined by a 17-year-old Polish girl, Kristina.
From Siberia they trekked south to India crossing the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas. This more than hardish trek took its toll on the group and four of them died: two in the Gobi and two in the Himalayas.
The four survivors, after a brutal and astonishing 11-month trek, reached British India around March 1942 and stumbled upon a Gurkha military patrol group that takes them to the safe city of Calcutta.
Having finally reached freedom after a trek of 4000 miles (over 6000 km) the party splits up with Rawicz eventually returning to his homeland Poland.
It was from here that Rawicz published his book, The Long Walk in 1956. It was an instant sensation. Ever since the book has sold over half a million copies, has been translated into 25 languages and is still in print.
There is quite some controversy regarding the authenticity of Rawicz’s story. Witold Glinski, for example, another polish survivor of the war, claimed that he was the person who did “the long walk”. Linda Willis did a decade of research on most parts of the story, without reaching a definite conclusion in her book ‘Looking for Mr. Smith: The Quest for the Truth Behind The Long Walk, the Greatest Survival Story Ever Told’
In spite of the disputes regarding the realness of this grandest of escapes (see here for more info), The Long Walk is such an extraordinary story that it was inevitable for the story to be turned into a motion picture. In 2010 the hollywood movie version was released under the title: The Way Back (directed by Peter Weir, Actors Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess) and got one Oscar nomination in 2011.
No matter what, it remains one of the most kickass escape and survival stories of all time!