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Dentistry Ohio

'Living' Article December 2010


December 2010


Within his book The Long Walk: the True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Polish soldier Slavomir Rawicz chronicles the story of his escape with six fellow prisoners from one of Stalin’s Soviet labor camps in the heart of Siberia.  It is perhaps the single most moving and haunting tale I’ve read in the past 25 years.  In the end Rawicz march measured over 1000 miles through the heart of Siberian winter, China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, over the Himalayas and ultimately into British India.  It was an unfathomable journey through the extremes of earth’s most inhospitable conditions.

From his eastern Poland hometown of Pinsk, Rawicz was stolen away by Soviet troops and thrown into a prison camp where he was beaten and tortured in an effort to get him to confess his role as a spy sneaking across into neighboring Soviet villages.  After a sham trial before the Soviet Supreme Court Rawicz, along with thousands of other captive Poles, was trained through the Russian winter in open livestock cars from Moscow to the distant eastern town of Irkutsk.  Here the prisoners were stationed, two-by-two in long lines behind heavy-duty Russian trucks.  A huge roll of sturdy steel chain was uncoiled between the parallel lines, prisoners were ordered to take hold and each was lashed at the wrist to the chain.  “Like some great, slowly-walking reptile”, writes Rawicz, “the long procession began to move, the lorry (truck) at the head setting the pace.”  Day after day the soldiers trudged to the north through the Siberian snows behind the giant trucks, non-stop for twelve or more hours.  “We were hit by three tearing blizzards”, recalls Rawicz, “in the course of our march.  The first one, which struck toward the end of the first week was the worst because it was our first experience of the full fury of one of these freezing, high-velocity winds hurling with it a concentrated, driving weight of snow.” 

It was during the second week of their march that one of the prisoners was able to confirm from a guard that it was December 24th.  “The news went up and down the long, struggling line like the leaping flames of a forest fire.  ‘It’s Christmas Eve’, went the whisper from man to man.”  Rawicz looked across at his chain mate, “It’s Christmas Eve, Grenchinen.”  “Christmas Eve”, he responded.  And then from behind an odd and startling sound rose like a wave and swept forward.  “It was the sound of men singing, men singing with increasing power in the wastes of the Siberian wilderness… Everybody who had a voice left was joining in.  A marching choir of nearly five thousand male voices drowning their despair in a song of praise for the Child who would be born on the morrow.  The song was ‘Holy Night’, and those who did not sing it in Polish sang it in the language in which they had learnt it as children.  Then a few voices started the Polish Christmas carol, ‘Jesu’s Lullaby’, and I choked on it and fell silent.  And half-way through it, others broke down and wept quietly.  The Lullaby died abruptly and there was no more singing.  Our hearts were full to bursting with the bitter-sweet memories of other Christmases.”

May a wave of genuine Christmas Spirit empower you and yours this season of Light, Life and Love!   

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