Russian History Escape from a Siberian Prison Part 1

About an escape from a Siberian prison in the early days of World War II, history and story of the jail break.


The Long Walk-1939

In the fall of 1939, the highly mechanized German blitzkrieg knifed into Poland from the west while the massive Red Army attacked from the east. In the doomed Polish army was 24-year-old Lt. Slavomir Rawicz. After suffering shrapnel wounds on the western front, Slavomir retreated east into the Russian-dominated area. Well-educated, fluent in Russian, and bred in a border town, he was soon arrested as a spy and found himself in the infamous Kharkov prison.

The torture-master at Kharkov, known as "the Bull," subjected Slavomir to vicious beatings, knife slashings, cigarette burnings, icy water torture, and more, all in an effort to extort a confession. Yet after six months, the resolute Pole still had not confessed. To confess meant death, he feared, and he had a will to live. But the Bull, his reputation at stake, drugged his prisoner. In a stupor, Slavomir signed a document he had not even been permitted to read. It was used as evidence against him in a mock trial, and he was sentenced to 25 years in a Siberian labor camp.

There were others with stories like Slavomir's, and thousands were assembled for the journey by rail into Siberia. Jammed against one another in unheated cattle cars, they had to stand for long periods, and many of the ill-nourished men died. The survivors left the train after a month, during which they had traveled over 3,000 mi., for an even worse ordeal. Two columns of 50 men were handcuffed by one arm to a long chain. One end of the chain was then attached to a truck, and the truck drove off north into the Siberian wilderness, pulling the convicts behind. Despite the fierce Siberian winter, with its blizzards, cutting winds, and drifting snow, the trucks enforced a constant pace of 4 mph. As men passed the brink of exhaustion and died, they were uncuffed, stripped, and buried in the snow, while the survivors were moved forward on the chain. Soon a length of empty chain trailing in the snow told a tale of death.

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