Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-10: Only to America!

After thanking the rabbi for the tremendous attention that he had shown towards me, on the Monday morning of April 21, 1969, I left for Vienna. Again I was in a train, this time however I was traveling for the first time as a free man! While in the train, I noticed that the rabbi had placed some money into the pocket of my jacket next to the piece of paper containing the HIAS address in Vienna where I was going. I was tremendously impressed by all this as I had never encountered a more attentive person in my entire life. In about two (2) hours I was in Vienna. It was about 11 AM. As I left the station looking for a taxi, I was amazed to see that all of the taxicabs were Mercedes-Benz.


In Romania only the President and no else had Mercedes-Benz cars. Here I was, now riding in a Mercedes-Benz! Upon giving to the taxi driver my piece of paper with the HIAS address, he immediately acknowledged it with a nod of his head as if he was saying "I know exactly where it is."

I arrived at the HIAS headquarters for Austria and the receptionist was aware that I was coming. After filling out a long questionnaire, I had my first interview with an official from HIAS. The interview was tense, unfriendly, and the bottom line was that I was discouraged to go to America and encouraged to go to Israel where I had some 50 relatives --all on my mother's side. Their argument went like this:

"I cannot approve your going to America. You have nobody there, you speak English poorly and you will end up on the unemployment line. Why don't you want to go to Israel where you have so many relatives? You see, Israel is not like Romania. Israel is a free country and from Israel you can, if you want, go to America. So because of my responsibility towards your well-being I cannot accept your application for you to go America. You need to go to Israel."

In a subdued voice, I asked: "Do you need my signature of consent to go to Israel? "Yes, we do" the official responded. Well, to this I added:

"For me, you see, it is inconceivable not to go to America and because of this I could never be able to sign a paper consenting to go to Israel. I do not want to go to Israel. I want to go to America. "

Recognizing that this interview was leading nowhere, the HIAS official advised me to come back in a few days and to reflect in the meantime on everything that had been said. Also, I was told that HIAS had arranged for me to have a room in the city where I could stay while in Vienna and that I would also receive money for food.


Returning in a few days to my next scheduled appointment, again no progress was achieved as both HIAS and I held to the same intransigent positions. A new appointment was scheduled in a week's time and the result was the same. Another appointment was again scheduled with the same HIAS official. The lack of progress because of my "stubbornness and lack of cooperation" prompted the official to refer this matter to the Executive Director of HIAS for Austria for the final disposition of this case.

I began to worry considerably about my chances with HIAS helping me to reach my ultimate goal --that of reaching the United States, and consequently I began working on contingency plans involving the seven addresses that I had from the rabbi from Graz and that of contacting directly the United States Embassy in Vienna and asking for political asylum. With these growing concerns and tentative alternate plans to bypass HIAS, I went to see, as scheduled, the Director of HIAS. This Director, a man of considerable wit, articulated in a most eloquent way the position that the Agency was taking and once again emphasized the necessity for me to go first to Israel. Stating my case, in an extremely subdued voice, that there was not even a remote chance for me to consent to going to Israel, notwithstanding my great numbers of relatives that were living there and of the fact that I could have become an Israeli citizen within 24 hours of my arrival there, I insisted that for me really there was one and only one place that I could consider living and that place was America only. In exasperation, the Director asked me: "But WHY when from Israel you can go directly to the States?" To this I responded that this was my burning desire to live in America and nowhere else, and that I would appreciate if he could help me in that direction. Then, continuing, I said:

"Could you at least help me arrange for an appointment with the Consul from the American Embassy here in Vienna where I could state my case? With or without HIAS' help I am determined to reach America from here."

To this the Director informed me that the American Immigration laws would require that a person intending to immigrate to the United States have a guarantor vouching for that person and since I did not know anybody in America, I obviously could not have such a guarantor vouching for me in America. Then, he continued:

"HIAS could be a guarantor, if we are convinced that immigrating to the United States is the best course of action. Can you give me a compelling reason why you should immigrate to the United States rather than to Israel?"

Bowing my head down, I stood in complete silence for some two (2) minutes when the Director interjected:

"You see you do not have an answer and, that is why we cannot approve for you to immigrate from here to the United States."

Looking straight into the Director's eyes, in a forceful voice I stated:

"Oh, but I have an answer! I have in fact the most compelling answer to your question. You saw from my application that my field of expertise is Astronomy and that my last job was at the Observatory of the Romanian Academy of Sciences working on the PAGEOS International Project. It is my desire to continue working in my profession and by sending me to Israel this would not be possible as Israel does not even have an Observatory! Why are you forcing me to change my profession?"

To this, after a pause and with a subtle smile, the Director said:

"OK. You have convinced me. We will be your guarantor for your first two years in America. I will arrange all the necessary paperwork. From here, you will be going to Rome, Italy which is the center of HIAS for all of Europe. You will stay there a number of months while you are waiting to receive the immigration visa from the United States. There, you will have an interview with an Official from the United States Embassy. I wish you well and good luck!"

I was enormously relived by all this. My three (3) weeks ordeal was over. I was tremendously excited and happy. Reaching America now appeared to be within my grasp as a milestone towards that end had just been passed. I was convinced that somebody above was watching over me!




S p e c i a l   L i n k :
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