Finished Slavomir Rawicz’s book titled “The Long Walk.” Different in other ways from the recent Hollywoodized movie “The Way Back.” Why did the movie veer off as it did from this true story from the early 1940s? More than enough drama without going off the serpentine path these escapees took from a Siberian prison camp, all 4,000 miles of it. Without giving all the story away, if you are interested in reading the book or watching the movie, I will insert something from p. 116 that I thought was particularly good. It fits with the drum I’ve been beating for a long time about what conditions were like in Ukraine in the 1930s. So much sadness even before the 1940s for those who survived the terror famine in the 1930s and what they encountered once sent off to Siberia or Kazakhstan to be “rehabilitated.”
The movie changed the name of the one fugitive girl (Irena) that joined the party of escapees, her name was Kristina in the book. She wanted to let the other seven men know who she was so thus the title of this blog, she started with:
“I think I should tell you about myself,” she said. We nodded. It was a variation of a story we all knew. The prison camps were filled with men who could tell of similar experiences. The location and the details might differ, but the horror and the leaden misery were common ingredients and stemmed from the same authorship.
After the first World War Kristina Polanska’s father had been rewarded for his war services by a grant of land in the Ukraine under the reorganization of Central European territory. He had fought against the Bolsheviks, and General Pilsudski was thus able to give a practical expression of Polish gratitude. The girl was the only child. They were a hard-working couple, these parents, and they intended that Kristina should have every advantage their industry could provide. In 1939 she was attending high school in Luck and the Polanskas were well pleased with the progress she was making.
Came September 1939. The Russians started moving in. Ahead of the Red Army “Liberators” the news of their coming reached the Ukrainian farm workers. The well-organized Communist underground was ready. It needed only a few inflammatory speeches on the theme of the overthrow of the foreign landowners and restoration of the land to the workers, and the Ukrainian peasants were transformed into killer mobs. The Polanskas knew their position was desperate. They knew the mob would come for them. They hid Kristina in a loft and waited…”
The rest of Kristina’s story is too sad to recount here in this blog as is true of all these stories coming out of Ukraine and Kazakhstan I have collected over the years. Suffice it to say, Kristina was an orphan and met up with these men who had gone through far worse trials of being separated from their families and also severely tortured. The movie, of course, did not go indepth as to what had happened to Kristina before she met up with them. Nor had the movie shown the tortures that Rawicz went through at the hands of the Soviets which is at the beginning of the book.
Therefore, next time an old timer from the Old Country might say to you, “I think I should tell you about myself…” Let them tell their story. But my guess is that you will have to patiently ask questions (maybe loudly and insistently) and need a box of tissues handy when you get the answers.