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The Long Walk
By Lauren Edwards and David Anderson
Photography by David Anderson

RUSSIA-Sept. 21, 2004

- Slavomir Rawicz in The Long Walk

My eye caught a bit of shiny silver tin protruding from the snow. As I bent down to inspect the abnormally placed piece of metal, I realized it wasn’t metal at all—it was a pile of mica. I picked some up, and the flaky substance cleaved off into perfect trapezoid shapes in my hands.

Our guide Nicholi had hiked us three miles deep into the murky Siberian forest to show us the remains of Rawicz’ Gulag camp. This was what we had traveled to Siberia to see—the actual spot where Rawicz had been imprisoned and kept in intense labor for two years before he plotted his escape. The camp’s remains were in shambles, although its presence was obvious. There were foundations of barracks that the prisoners had built themselves and stayed in, the scattered shards of pots, an old guard stand, and even a grave pit for the prisoners who got out of line or were worked to death. 

As it turned out, the pile of mica I had stumbled on wasn’t the only one. Through gestures and charades, Nicholi explained that this particular Gulag camp was a mining camp for mica and quartz. As he hiked us further up the valley to the actual mine, we noticed old wooden wheelbarrows that had obviously been used to carry large loads of rocks and minerals back to camp.

With so many labor camps scattered around the region, it was impossible to tell if this exact Gulag was where Rawicz spent his time. This particular camp was relatively small. When it came time to close the mine and get rid of the prisoners, all 200 men were chained together, marched 40 miles down to Lake Baikal, and forced onto the thin ice of the lake, where they all broke through and drowned to their deaths.  Rawicz’ fate was luckier.

When it came time to leave, we gladly left the camp’s eerie remains behind, ready to continue our journey south along Lake Baikal.

reported by Lauren Edwards

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