Thank you for asking this fascinating question!
Although most websites plainly call ?The Long Walk? a true story,
there is some doubt that the book is 100% factual.
The general consensus among critics of the volume is that it?s
*mostly* true, but embellished. I think the very best example of this
attitude comes from Aleksander Topolski, author of ?Without Vodka? and
other books relating to personal experiences in Russia during wartime.
As a man who has knowledge of Soviet prisons, he has this to say of
?The Long Walk:?
?His descriptions of conditions in the prisons sound true enough.
However, at both meetings Rawicz was evasive when pinned down on
certain factual statements in his book. His memoirs were ghost-written
for him by an English journalist (his landlord) who met him soon after
the war. At the meetings I attended, Rawicz?s English was still
halting. My personal opinion is that his story was embellished by his
For example. the book tells about being hand-cuffed or chained in the
USSR. Yet the Soviets were anxious to distance themselves from such
tsarist practices and so fetters and chains were a no-no for them.
Similarly, tsarist prisoners in transit were distinguished from the
general population by, among other things, having shaven heads and
often no hats. To emphasize how well prisoners were now being treated
under the Soviets, our guards would never take us outside prisons or
march us in public view without first making sure that we all were
wearing some kind of head gear.
Some readers have tried to check Rawicz?s story against the records
but so far have found nothing to verify his long walk. Apparently all
they found in the Polish Army records was that he came from the USSR
and served in Palestine (and, I presume, elsewhere). A check of the
British Hospital records for India and elsewhere shows no record of
his hospitalization. Now that NKVD records are opening up to the
public? for a price ? maybe something has or will turn up to verify
his story, or at least his incarceration in a Siberian mining Gulag.
There was quite a bit of controversy in the British Press when The
Long Walk was published as to whether such a long trek was possible.
If my memory serves me well, the discussion carried on for a while in
the Letters to the Editor columns of English newspapers. However, I
don?t remember Rawicz ever writing in reply. One Brit, who had
traveled in Central Asia, claimed that Rawicz could not have walked
across the Gobi Desert as he said without noticing the telephone line
which crosses it. That provoked letters from others who pointed out a
possible route that missed it.? ( ?Frequently Asked Questions,?
Without Vodka, http://www.withoutvodka.com/faq.htm#9 )
In short, critics find some of his details unlikely (even entirely
inaccurate), and there is no paper work to back up Rawicz?s story. In
addition, experts have questioned whether Rawicz actually took the
trek he claims to have taken. For example, in one book review
(focusing mostly on Rawicz?s ?bigfoot? sighting), nurse and bigfoot
research Bobbie Short quotes Daniel Perez?s on ?The Long Walk.? (I
should note that Short dismisses the statement.): ??famous
mountaineer Eric Shipton, expedition leader of the successful assault
on Mt. Everest, studied the text of 'The Long Walk' and later
expressed considerable doubt about the terrain Rawicz claims to have
traversed. Therefore, on the heels of questionable and shaky geography
described by Rawicz, the damned testimony of the alleged witness
[Rawicz] has to come into question.? (?The Long Walk? by Bobbie Short,
From the Files of Bobbie Short,
Rawicz?, unfortunately, has no one to back up his story. Not a
government official, not a friend or foe. Even his descriptions of the
terrain lead some to believe the story is false. However, much of the
information Rawicz gives about Soviet camps and prisons is undoubtedly
true, as others who have experienced the camps readily concede. Rawicz
had to have some personal knowledge in order to write about them so
Even Rwaicz? critics?at least those who are knowledgeable about Soviet
goings-on?feel the book has much truth in it. As Topolski concludes:
?Even now, some people (including a few who?ve heard what happened to
me) find it hard to believe that the conditions we faced in the USSR
at that time were really that bad. The controversy over some of the
facts in Rawicz?s story does not detract from the book?s literary
value?his book remains a great read.?
"The Long Walk" Rawicz facts
"The Long Walk" facts
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"Slavomir Rawicz" "ghost writer"