Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-4: The Beginning of the End

In Romania, mail was delivered seven (7) days a week, and thus in Romania, Sunday was an ordinary day for mail services. However, for me the Sunday of April 6, 1969, was transformed instantly from an ordinary day into an extraordinary day with the arrival of my mail, as there in that mail was the Notification from the Romanian Police with respect to the fate of my application to visit Yugoslavia.


From my previous two rejections, I recognized the envelope instantly. The result of the visa application was given on a reply form with two boxes: one box if checked indicated that the visa was denied, the other box if checked was that the application was approved. I was afraid to open the envelope, so I attempted to read through the unopened envelope. I somehow was able to see that the box designated for rejections was not checked and then, engulfed with emotions, I immediately opened the envelope. I was completely stunned when opening the envelope, I saw this statement:
"Your visa to Yugoslavia has been approved. You may go any time within six (6) months for the duration of time specified in your application. Please present yourself here in person with this letter to obtain your visa."

I remember reading and re-reading these lines over and over in total disbelief. I was all alone in the house: my sister was not home, my mother was in a hospital for minor surgery, and my father, who was divorced from my mother, was living elsewhere. I called my father, asking him to meet with me right away as something extraordinary had just happened. It was about 11 o'clock in the morning. My father had put a raincoat over his pajamas (as he had worked a nightshift at his hospital), and we met outside the building where he was living. I showed him the letter that I had just received from the Romanian Police Headquarters. He had a somber and concerned look on his face and, after a moment of pause and silence, stated to me that I would have to leave Romania as soon as possible. Any delay with my departure, my father reasoned, would decrease in a substantial way my chances to leave Romania. And this was because at that time in Romania it was very common that after a visa was approved, weeks later it would be revoked. As a procedural matter, once a visa was approved, it was always re-examined by a higher-up. And in my case, it was clear through my actions over the last six months that I was trying in all directions to leave Romania, and thus, in all likelihood, upon review my visa would have been recalled. We thus, my father and I, agreed that I should leave Romania as soon as was possible and that I was not to talk with anyone (including my sister) about my plans with the exception, of course, of my mother.

After meeting with my father, I took the bus to the Elias Hospital where my dear mother was waiting for a minor operation. Upon learning of the news, my mother became extremely frightened and nervous asking me whether I was sure of what I was doing. After I responded in the affirmative, my mother asked me not to go alone to the Police Station next day, but to go with my cousin Ivan. She mentioned that because Ivan's entire family (his mother who was the sister of my mother, his father, his sister, and another cousin) were scheduled to leave Romania permanently immigrating to Israel in only three (3) days, on Wednesday April 9, 1969, that he would be the most suitable person to accompany me to the Police Station on the next day. No one knew what would will be the process in securing the passport much less what would will transpire at the Police Station. For sure everybody was afraid to go into a Police Station.

Soon after visiting my mother at the Hospital, I went to see my cousin Ivan and he was completely mesmerized by the news. Next day, April 7, 1969, my cousin (who turned 20 years old on that day!) and I went to the Police Station with the letter received, as advised, not knowing what would happen next. The Police Officer, upon seeing my letter asked me for my ID. [In Romania, at that time, everybody had an ID similar to that of a Passport. As in a Passport, the Romanian ID had pages where the Police would put stamps indicating the locations where the respective citizen traveled within the country.] After I gave the Police Officer my ID as requested, he excused himself. We waited there for some five (5) minutes which seemed to me an eternity in an extraordinarily tense mood not knowing what we were waiting for or what would happen next. When the Police Officer finally returned, he had in his hand a passport to which he said as he was handing it over to me:
"This is your Passport. From this moment you have six months at your disposal to leave Romania for Yugoslavia for the requested two weeks. We will keep your ID here and, when you return from your trip, you will come here: you will give us the Passport and we will give you back your ID. Have a good trip."

Saying "Thank You", we left the Police Station immediately in disbelief that I was carrying with me a passport with a visa for Yugoslavia. From there I went straight to work at the Observatory excusing myself for being late and stating that my stomach ulcer was bothering me again. Obviously, no one from the Observatory knew what had happened with me in the past two days much less that I was carrying a Passport with a visa for Yugoslavia. After a few hours at the Observatory, I asked and received permission to leave early claiming that my stomach ulcer was bothering me again. I was also able to rearrange my schedule to work mostly in the afternoons, evenings, and some nights. From the Observatory, I went straight to my mother at the Hospital to bring her the incredible news that had just transpired: I was in the possession of my passport with a visa good for six (6) months for Yugoslavia. I informed my mother that I would schedule leaving for Yugoslavia as soon as possible by train and that I would keep her informed of everything that would transpire.

Next day, on Tuesday April 8, 1969, I went in the morning to the International Railroad Ticket Agency to buy railroad tickets to Yugoslavia. Upon my inquiry as to the first available train to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the woman at the other end asked me if I had a Passport with a visa for Yugoslavia. [In Romania, you could not buy an international ticket if you did not have a valid passport with a visa for the respective country.] Upon showing and verifying my passport with the corresponding visa, the woman at the counter advised me that the first train for Belgrade was on Saturday April 12 at 8:00 PM. To this, I responded that I was interested in buying tickets for Belgrade to which she asked:
"Do you want to buy a one-way ticket or a round trip?"
[If you were stupid enough to fall for this trap and asked for a one-way ticket, your fate would have been sealed for good as she would have confiscated the passport and called for the police.]

To this, I responded in a rage and with a most angered voice:
"How dare you ask such a question! I have never been insulted like this in my entire life! I demand an explanation and an apology for this."

After the woman apologized several times, I continued:
"I would like however my ticket to Belgrade to be in a first class sleeping car and to reserve an entire compartment of double occupancy, i.e., to pay for both beds of the compartment, and for my return I would like third class. Any questions?

"No, Sir, everything is clear, and I am sorry that you got so upset." --the woman replied. After paying for and taking my tickets, I was left pondering my next move.

I knew that the Romanian money called "Lei" (in translation "The Lions"), notwithstanding their name, were worthless outside the country and this, in itself, was a big problem. The maximum that a person could exchange at that time in Romania for a trip to Yugoslavia was 200 dinars and that was not very much. Other problems began to pop up which required prompt attention. These final and frenetic preparations are discussed in the next section.