This work counts as my Distance choice in the 9 for '09. Omsk, Russia, which is the nearest city to Siberia on the distance calculator to New Orleans is 10,459 kilometers or 6499 miles.
This is a memoir of Lt. Slamovir Rawicz, who was captured by the Russians and sent to Siberia in 1940. He thinks that his crime was being a Polish officer and resisting the Nazis. He believes that he was in one of the last calvary battles of the 20th century, against the Nazi tanks.
After spending a year in prison, he and other prisoners traveled from Moscow, across the country, and got off Lake Baikal. Then, they were taken by truck toward the Artic Circle and then walked and walked. Once they arrived, they had to build their own huts. They were given axes to cut down the trees and 3 meals a day: bread, coffee, soup, and a warm drink for the night.
Rawicz got a few more grams of bread by making skis for the Soviet Army. Then, he got the plum assignment of fixing a radio of the commander.
He plans an escape with 6 other men: Anton Paluchowcz and Sigmund Makowski (the Polish Army), Eugen Zaros (Yugoslavian clerk), Anastazi Kolemenos (Latvian landowner), Marchinkovas (Lithuanian), and Mr. Smith (a US Engineer who was building the Moscow subway). All the men spoke Rusian, which was useful in the first leg of the walk.
An excellent map in the front shows the route: across Lake Baikal, and the Kentei Mountains, Mongolia, the Gobi, into China, going through Tibet, but bypassing Lhasa, crossing the Himalayas, and into northern India, where Mr. Smith's English skills finally came into use.
They left with no food and found food on the way. Rawicz was the only one who wasn't a city person and he knew how to hunt and fish a bit. They were given food by villagers and no one denounced them.
They also found a young girl, Kristina Polanski, a Polish Ukranian, who was running away from a labor camp.
The BBC made a documentary, doubting the veracity of the memoir. However, a couple of things indicate it could be true.
- Circassian villages had wooden bowls, that were treated like gold. The bowls "can't be made in these mountain districts.They are fashioned with great skill from a special kind of hardwood which does not crack." And, ".. man will sometimes trade two yaks for one of those."
That's a tiny fact that really can't be made up.
- The author continued to be plagued by nightmares, despite living a quiet life in England after the war.
This work is an interesting read in the struggle for freedom and what people will do to gain it.