Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-3: The Elusive "Open" Window

In May 1968, I graduated from the University of Bucharest and, being first in my class, I was appointed, as it was customary, to work for the Romanian Academy of Sciences. And because my field was Astronomy, I was appointed to work as a researcher for the Romanian Astronomical Observatory in Bucharest. Since my appointment would start in September, I had the entire summer of '68 for pondering how in God's name I could defect from this giant prison that I was born into --Romania.


You could not talk with anyone about this subject since in Romania it was estimated that every second person was an informant of some sort working for the Government! I could not have trusted for one minute my very own sister Rodica accidentally giving me away, and thus she was never in on my plans for the contemplated escape. The only persons that were fully aware of my plans, and having my full confidence, were my parents and especially my very dear mother who was my principal confidant. Although terribly afraid of the consequences that might follow, my mother in a tacit and subtle way did not discourage me. With no clues of how to approach my escape, I applied for a tourist visa for three (3) weeks to Italy stating in the application that this was a graduation present from my parents. After waiting the customary two (2) months for a reply from the Romanian Police, I got the expected negation. Shortly after that, I applied, in a similar fashion, for a tourist visa for Austria with which Romania, at that time, had excellent relations. After another two (2) months of waiting, I got from the Romanian Police the same negative response. By that time, I was already working at the Observatory and, I was convinced that the tourist visa scheme had no chance for materialization.

As I was pondering what my next move would be, in late October our Observatory was visited by two young astronomers from the Observatory of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Since they were my age with similar professional interests, we quickly became friends. In their 10-day stay, being their host in Bucharest, I was able to establish a good rapport with them. I knew that the only "card" that I had left to play with was the "card" with Yugoslavia. Because of this, I did not want to waste this precious "card" on a tourist visa, as before, nor to use it immediately after my two recent back-to-back rejections from the Romanian Police.


I waited for the year to end and, at the beginning of the new year 1969, I approached the Director of the Observatory, the late Prof. Dr. Constantin Dramba (who was also my thesis adviser while a student at the University and who considered me as his protégé) and informed him of my interest in the research that was going on in Yugoslavia at the Belgrade Observatory and of my desire to spend two weeks there. He, almost apologetically, advised me of the financial difficulties that the Romanian Observatory was having and of the difficulties for the Observatory to pay for such a contemplated trip. To this, being sympathetic to his concerns, I answered that this should not be a problem as I was prepared to pay from my own pocket all of the expenses associated with the trip and that moreover, I was prepared to take the trip during my own vacation, thus costing the Observatory absolutely nothing. To this, the Director, in absolute dismay asked me:
"Then, what do you need from me if you are going to pay for everything?"

To this, I advised the Director that the only thing that was needed was that in the space allocated for "The Reason for the Trip" on my application visa for Yugoslavia instead of my writing "Tourist", he would need write that the Astronomical Observatory of the Romanian Academy of Science wanted me to go there. Apparently relieved with the minimal involvement that he would have in all this, the Director, most gladly, agreed to my request. And sure enough, in a few days when I brought him my new visa application for Yugoslavia, the Director completed the necessary "Reason for the Trip" section as agreed. In fact to add more clout, the Director with his signature affixed the Great Seal of the Romanian Academy of Science.

The Director of the Observatory was so impressed with me that I vividly remember how he called all the researchers of the Observatory telling them what a beautiful example I am making here:
"Look at him (referring to me), in his vacation he does not want to go to the beach, he wants to do research! What a beautiful example for other researchers to follow!"

After submitting my new visa application with the official seal of endorsement from the Romanian Academy of Sciences, I knew somehow that this would be my only chance to which I could cling, and thus, I was determined to do everything that I could to protect this chance.

About a week later, being now the end of January 1969, I got terribly sick to my stomach. My father, a physician, diagnosed my problem immediately as being a peptic ulcer. My first two weeks, after the diagnosis, I was confined to bed. During that time of my convalescence, I received in the mail a notification from the Army that I would have to go for service for two (2) years! Well, this peptic ulcer could not have come at a better time since because of it, I was able to postpone the Army service for one (1) year. I remember I had to appear before the medical examiner of the Army who informed me in these exacts words:
"We are sorry that we have to tell you that you will not have the honor to serve your country this year."

With that being resolved, I went back to work at the Observatory where everybody knew of my peptic ulcer. Some uneventful months passed rather quickly until Sunday April 6, 1969 --a day of high drama and emotions which is revealed in the next section.