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My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. {11} Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord; that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11)

Slavomir Rawicz (1915-2004) was a Polish soldier who was captured by Soviet troops when they overran Poland and was exiled to Siberia. He and six others escaped and walked over 6500 km (4000 miles south, through Siberia, the Gobi desert, and over the Himalayas to India.

In 1941, Slavomir Rawicz (sentenced as a spy) and six fellow prisoners escaped a Soviet labor camp in Yakutsk — a camp where enduring hunger, cold, untended wounds, untreated illnesses, and avoiding daily executions were everyday feats. To reach safety meant more than a 4,000-mile trek on foot out of Siberia and through China, the Gobi desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas. With nothing but an ax, a knife, and a week’s worth of food, they risked everything to gain their freedom.

His saga is chronicled in a ghost-written book 'The Long Walk' (, whose veracity is controversial, according to the reviews posted on

Slavomir Rawicz was born September 11 1915 in Pinsk, in contemporary Poland (currently in Belarus). He was son of a Polish landowner and his Russian wife; he learned her language well. He received private primary education and went to study architecture in 1932. In 1937 he joined polish reserve army and went through cadet officer's school. In 1939 he married Vera - two days before the German invasion into Poland. After he was mobilized, he only saw his wife for a few days altogether.

When the Soviet Union took over Poland, Rawicz returned to Pinsk where NKVD arrested him on November 19 1939. He was taken to Moscow. After a year in Lubyanka prison, he was sentenced, ostensibly for spying, to 25 years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp. According to his account, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union defeated Poland, In November 1939, agents of the Soviet waited for Rawicz as he returned home, where and arrested him on November 19, 1939. In 1939 a transport containing thousands of Russian prisoners chugged into the vast frozen wastes of Siberia. Slavomir Rawicz, then in his early twenties, was one of them.

Slavomir Rawicz was taken to Minsk, then sent to Kharkov for interrogation, then to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was put on rigged "trial".

He was tortured to make him confess to being a spy which was unsuccessful. He was sentenced to 25 years of hard labour in a Siberian prison camp, ostensibly for espionage as were thousands of his countrymen. In the book, Rawicz claims to have been transported, alongside thousands of others, to Irkutsk and made to walk to the Gulag Camp 303, 650 km south of the Arctic Circle. His labour duties in the camp included the construction of the prisoners' barracks, the manufacture of skis for the Russian army, and the repair and operation of the camp commandant's radio.

According to his later account, Rawicz received unexpected help from the wife of the camp commander, Ushakov, when he was asked to look at their radio set. She'd arrange additional supplies for him and his allies; in return she wished that they'd escape when her husband was absent. Rawicz befriended six men: a 37-year-old Polish border guard Sigmund Makowski; toothless Polish cavalryman Anton Paluchowicz Sergeant Paluchowicz also had a debilitating problem: He had lost all of his teeth to repeated beatings by the NKVD and had no dentures with which to chew food. At the camp he had soaked food in water to soften it) the huge blond haired Latvian Anatazi Kolemenos; Eugene Zaro; a café owner from Yugoslavia, Lithuanian architect Zacharius Marchikovas; and Smith, a mysterious American businessman, who had been working as an engineer in Moscow when he was arrested. He insisted--in flawless Russian--on being called "Mister Smith."

In April 9 1941, at midnight, Rawicz and his six allies escaped in a middle of a savage blizzard, tunnelling under the wire. They rushed to the south, avoiding towns in fear they'd be betrayed, but apparently they were not actively pursued. “The weather was too bad for patrols to operate, no animal or human would stick a nose out of the door, so this was our only chance. Our immediate aim was to get out of Russia. The border was 1,600 miles away. The walkers set up a pattern. One man in front, forming a trail through the forest, two at the back sweeping over the footprints with pine branches.

They also met an additional fugitive, 18-year-old Krystyna Polansk, a terrified young Polish girl who had fled barefoot through the forest from the Russians, who had killed her family and tried to rape her. A native of the Polish Ukraine, Krystyna and her family had been burned out of their home when the Soviet "liberators" arrived in September 1939. Captured by the Red Army, she was among the women and children dispatched to a Gulag camp in Western Siberia. “She was very lonely and distressed and when her foot was inspected, she had gangrene. A member of the group made moccasins for her with the rest of the deer skin, and they carried her on a stretcher of poles with dry grass. But every day she got worse. Her leg turned black and the skin swelled and burst, it was terrible to watch.

Growing up in the country, he had learned which plants and fungi were edible and how to cook them, how to hunt fish and trap animals. “For water, we sucked frost from stones in the early morning, then turned them over and found moisture below. We got so thirsty we even sipped our own perspiration, and some drank their urine.

“We walked in the dark, and sheltered from the sun under our ragged clothes propped on sticks,” Witold says. “Wolves and jackals would circle around us. Once they found a deer trapped in a ravine. They feasted on it for days afterwards and used pieces of the hide to bind up their thick felt prison boots.

They crossed the Trans-Siberian Railway line, pushed on into Mongolia, and there Krystyna became ravaged by fever.

Nine days later they crossed the Lena River. The first real rest for the escapees came after they crossed the Lena River, where they ate the only fresh food they had had in nine days: fish they caught by smashing through the ice covering the river. The next objective was Lake Baikal, 500 miles farther south. They walked around Lake Baikal and crossed to Mongolia. Fortunately, people they encountered were friendly and hospitable. During the crossing of the Gobi desert, death claimed several members of Rawicz's party. The extremes of heat and cold proved too much for Krystyna, who succumbed from exhaustion and beri-beri, she closed her eyes and died. Krystyna's cheerful demeanor and faith in God had never wavered during the entire ordeal. She had endured 7 monthes of the ordeal. They buried her in a shallow trench and covered her body with stones.

Eventually they were driven to hunt and kill large desert snakes, which they washed down with droplets of water extracted by chewing mud. They stabbed the fork down to catch the snake, then cut off its head. It would continue to wriggle for hours. Then they cut a ring around the body and peeled off the skin, rubbing sand on our hands to get a better grip. “Next, they had to take out the spinal cord, carefully because it’s poisonous, chop the body into pieces and boil it. They couldn’t bring themselves to eat snake, until finally forced to for lack of food.” They ate snakes, rats, bark, fish, and anything they could find. Incredibly, this diet gave the six survivors sufficient strength to make it across the Gobi. A quote from the U.S. Army Survival Guide: "The body requires a certain amount of water for a certain level of activity at a certain temperature. For example, a person performing hard work in the sun at 43 degrees C requires 19 liters of water daily. Lack of the required amount of water causes a rapid decline in an individual’s ability to make decisions and to perform tasks efficiently." The group were tormented by lice. On the far side of the desert they encountered yet another Mongolian who fed them and gave them directions to Lhasa.

The first to die were two of the Polish soldiers. They began to deteriorate with recognisable signs of scurvy. “They walked more and more slowly, their legs swelled up and they could pull out teeth with their fingers,” he says. “They died on the same day. By the time we had buried the first, the second Makowski also died. was almost gone.” Paluchowicz fell into a crevasse and disappeared. The two men had always walked side by side. Now they were laid side by side in graves.

In October 1942 they reached Tibet. Locals were friendly, especially when men said they were trying to reach Lhasa. As they moved through Tibet and the Himalayas, they helped out on farms in return for food and shelter. But in the climb, the next man perished – another of the Polish soldiers, who stood on a ledge that crumbled under him. They crossed the Himalayas in the middle of winter. Marchinkovas died in his sleep in the cold.

According to the book, four survivors of the 11-month trek reached British India around March 1942 and stumbled upon a Gurkha patrol. Rawicz, Smith, Zaro and Kolemenos staggered into northeast India, near the location of modern Bangladesh, where they were intercepted by six Indian soldiers. Thrusting out his hand, Smith said, in English: "We are very glad to see you." To his companions, Smith declared: "Gentlemen, we are safe."

"There we were, the four of us, stamping round, kicking up the dust, hugging one another, laughing hysterically through the blur of tears, until we collapsed one by one on the ground," recalled Rawicz. "All that misery, all that sorrow, the hardship of a whole year afoot, so that we might live again." They were taken to a hospital in Calcutta. After being fed, bathed and allowed some time for convalescence the four parted company. For the next four weeks Rawicz primarily slept. Once released from the hospital, the survivors went their own ways. Some were still permanently sick from the torture they faced at the Russian camp. They never met again.

Rawicz joined the British forces. In 1942 he served in Iraq and then in Palestine, teaching at the Polish cadet school. Due to recommendation of general Wladyslaw Anders, he came to Britain to train as a pilot as part of a Free Polish air force.

After the war he settled in Nottingham, England and worked as a school handicrafts instructor and as a cabinetmaker. He also married Marjorie Needham in 1946; they had five children. In the 1960s, the Nottingham building and design centre employed him before it was closed. In the early 1970s he became a technician on the architectural ceramics course at modern-day Nottingham Trent University school of art and design. Serious heart attack forced him into early retirement couple of years later.

Slavomir Rawicz died April 5 2004.

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38) And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. (Act 10:46-48)

Like A Bird I Have Flown
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