How many of you have read/seen The Diary of Anne Frank or any of the variations of it? How many of read/seen accounts of countless Jews taken by Nazis and forced into concentration camps, forced from their families for no real crime other than being a Jew, forced to work, forced to march until the last drop of life leaves them?
It’s a terrible period in our world’s history. But, what we don’t typically focus on is that the Allies had a terrible secret as well. The Soviets.
Now, I’m not saying the Soviets had the same plan and philosophy like the Nazi’s, I’m just saying there were many similarities! Between World War I and World War II, Eastern Europe was having a make-over, being fought between the Germans and the Soviets. Poland ended up in Soviet land. And that is where the memoir, The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz begins.
Slav was a member of the Polish Army. He had just barely come home after a quick service, to his newly wed wife when he was arrested by the Soviet police and taken to Russia for torturous questioning. Although he kept saying he was fighting the German Nazis, the fact that he had grown up near the Russian border and was a member of the Polish Army acted against him, allowing the Soviet police to claim he was a spy.
After months of torture and destitute living, he was sent via train to the middle of Russia and put on a chain gang to walk to a random camp in the middle of nowhere, Siberia in the middle of winter. There, he was installed in a labor camp and met a few other men who wanted to leave. One of note was an American engineer who had been hired to work on a project in Moscow, then was arrested after the job was finished. Slav, and 6 other men planned an escape.
They ran, and they ran, dressed in furs they had slowly accumulated. By the time they reached Lake Baikal, they met a young, petite, 17 year old girl who had escaped a near-rape experience at another labor camp. Together, the 8 continued to run. In Mongolia, they met with nice Mongols, exchanging service for food. But, they never had enough. Crossing the Gobi Desert, the girl and a man died. As they continued through China, Tibet, and the Himalayas, two more of them died. They finally reached a British post in India 18 months after they escaped Siberia.
This is a gritty account. Slav mentions in the beginning that not only had the language barrier between the English (after this ordeal, he lived in England for the rest of his life and married an English woman) and his Polish/Russian a problem in discussing his adventure, but also just all the trials he went through. It took him years to actually open up and divulge all he experienced. He describes the degradation he experienced, the torture and inhumane treatment. He wonders at himself how long he and his friends were able to last–the thought of freedom, the innocent feeling of determination–that was all they had to go on as they were starving and thirsting to death. It is a book of true commodity, trust, resolve, and courage.
Slav doesn’t hold back in his descriptions. He mentions, again, at the beginning, it was suggested by many people, including his doctor, to write this out, as sort of a therapy. Thus, details are given as he remembers them. There is only one swear word as he remembers his Soviet captors trying to squeeze a false confirmation out of him. But, there are descriptions of torture and mention of an almost-rape. The subject matter is harsh–men being forced to work, like the Jews in Nazi camps, and the disease, hardships, and hunger/thirst experienced. I am truly amazed that I will be teaching this to 9th graders (as they will be learning about the Cold War in their history class).
But, I strongly recommend reading it. It was hard to put down.
4 out of 5 stars.