Sławomir Rawicz was born on 1 September 1915 in Pinsk, Poland (today Belarus), the son of a landowner. He had a Russian mother and learned Russian as a youth. He received private primary education and went on to study architecture in 1932. In 1937 he joined the Polish Army Reserve and went through the cadet officer school. In July 1939 he married Vera, his first wife. She went missing during WWII.
According to his account, when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union defeated Poland, Rawicz returned to Pińsk, where the NKVD arrested him on November 19, 1939. He was taken to Moscow, then sent to Kharkov for interrogation, then, after a trial, to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. He claims to have been tortured to make him confess to being a spy. He was sentenced to 25 years of hard labour in a Siberian prison camp, ostensibly for espionage.
 Escape from the Gulag camp
In the book, Rawicz claims to have been transported, alongside thousands of others, to Irkutsk and made to walk to the Gulag Camp 303, 650 km south of the Arctic Circle. His labour duties in the camp included the construction of the prisoners' barracks, the manufacture of skis for the Russian army, and the repair and operation of the camp commandant's radio.
In The Long Walk, Rawicz describes how he and six companions escaped from the camp in the middle of a blizzard in 1941 and headed south, avoiding towns. Apparently they were not actively pursued. The fugitives included two Poles, a Latvian, a Lithuanian, a Czech and an enigmatic US engineer called "Mr. Smith"; they were later joined by a 17-year-old Polish girl. The book also mentions the spotting of a pair of Yeti in the Himalayas.
According to the book, four survivors of the 11-month trek reached British India around March 1942 and stumbled upon a Gurkha patrol. They were taken to a hospital in Calcutta. Once released from the hospital, the survivors went their own ways.
 WWII activities after imprisonment
According to Rawicz, he moved from India to Iraq, then re-entered the Soviet Union in June 1942 and rejoined the Polish Army on July 24, 1942 at Kermini. He then returned to Iraq with Polish troops and moved on to Palestine, where he spent time recovering in a hospital and teaching in a military school. He claimed that General Władysław Anders and Colonel Luzinski recommended his transfer to Britain for training as a pilot of the Polish Air Forces in Great Britain.
 Historical records
Soviet records confirm that Rawicz was a Polish soldier imprisoned in the USSR, but differ from The Long Walk in detail on the reasons for his arrest and the exact places of imprisonment. Polish Army records show that Rawicz left the USSR directly for Iran in 1942, which contradicts the book's storyline. Aside from matters concerning his health, his arrival in Palestine is verified by the records. The story of the escape to India comes from Rawicz himself. The BBC report does mention the account of Captain Rupert Mayne, an intelligence officer in Calcutta, who - years after the war - said that in 1942 he had debriefed three emaciated men claiming to have escaped from a Siberian camp.
 Postwar life
After the war he settled in Sandiacre, Nottingham, England and worked at the Nottingham Design Centre. He married Marjorie Gregory née Needham in 1947; they had five children. In the early 1970s he became a technician at the Architectural Ceramics course at Nottingham Trent University School of Art and Design. A heart attack forced him into early retirement in 1975. He lived a quiet life with his family in a country house, giving public talks and answering fan mail, until his death on 5 April 2004.
 The Long Walk
The The Long Walk was ghost-written by Ronald Downing based on conversations with Rawicz. It was released in the UK in 1956 and has sold over half a million copies worldwide and has been translated into 25 languages. It's been an inspiration for many explorers, including Benedict Allen, Bear Grylls and Cyril Delafosse-Guiramand.
Over the years, critics of the book's accuracy have included Peter Fleming (the brother of Ian Fleming), Eric Shipton and Hugh E. Richardson, a British diplomat stationed in Lhasa. In May 2009, Witold Glinski, a Polish WWII veteran living in the UK, came forward to claim that the story was true, but was actually a recount of what happened to him, not Rawicz.