Biography of Jailbreaker Rufin Pietrowski Part 2

About the Polish jailbreaker Rufin Pietrowski, biography and history of the man who escaped from numerous prisons.


Rufin Pietrowski

By March he had crossed the Urals and had come back down into the western foothills at Solikamsk. Two months later he walked into Veliki-Ustyug, a tiny river town clogged with pilgrims waiting for the ice to break so that they could travel downstream to the holy convent of Solovetsk. Pietrowski joined them, assuming the role of a "worshiper of God" and hoping the new disguise would give him protective coloration. The ruse succeeded. When the spring thaw on the Dvina made river travel possible, Pietrowski joined with the other pilgrims, singing religious chants, carrying lighted tapers, and praying with local priests. His lack of money was no problem. According to custom each pilgrim was given free passage and arrived in Solovetsk with a bonus of 15 rubles paid for pulling an oar.

Arkhangelsk, however, brought a new danger. The harbor port was swarming with soldiers, all busily checking passports at the docks. Dismayed, Pietrowski plunged again into the desolate wastelands, skirting the marshes to the south, and reached the village of Vytegra. Here he found a ship captain willing to carry him to St. Petersburg, the summer capital of Czar Nicholas I. Once more he risked capture, but he reasoned that he would be less noticeable in city crowds. Loitering around the docks on the Neva, he surreptitiously read the red and yellow notices that advertised steamer departures. (As a "peasant," he was expected to be illiterate.) Eventually, a willing captain transported him to Riga, where he transformed himself into a buyer of hog bristles. This disguise let him openly ask directions to the Prussian frontier, which he crossed in broad daylight.

Elated, he now became a "French cotton spinner returning to France." On July 27 the bogus Frenchman arrived in Konigsberg and immediately celebrated by getting drunk. He was found sleeping in an abandoned house and taken into custody. Unable to convince the police that he was French, Pietrowski confessed his true identity and asked for asylum. The request placed the authorities in a dilemma since a new extradition treaty, just signed, required them to return him to Russia. Unable to ignore the fact that he had also become a national cause celebre once the story of his unparalleled escape had become known, the Berlin ministers issued a unique order to the Konigsberg police: Send him back--in one week. They took the hint and, releasing him from custody, suggested to Pietrowski that he use the time to good advantage. The Pole fled for Danzig (Gdansk) in the morning, and on Sept. 22, 1846, he returned to Paris, completing a 1,500-mi. odyssey that had taken eight months. The exploit made him the first man to escape from a 19th-century Siberian exile.

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