Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-5: The Final Preparations and the Coverup Plan

Knowing the exact day of departure of the train from Bucharest (April 12, 8:00 PM) and that of the arrival next day in Belgrade (April 13, 12 Noon), and being pressed by time, on Wednesday April 9, I sent a telegram to my two (2) Yugoslavian friends from the Belgrade Observatory informing them of my imminent arrival and asking them to wait for me at the Belgrade Railroad Station. (I gave no reason or any other explanation as to why I was coming to Belgrade, as my telegram message was very short, the only thing stated was for them to wait for me at the station.) In the meantime, at the Observatory, no one knew what was happening as I was working every day in a normal fashion. There was perhaps only one hint that something was amiss and that was when I returned all the books and magazines borrowed from the Observatory's Library. It was indeed unusual for a researcher to return all reading material back to the Library, but fortunately for me the librarian did not make anything out of it.

Small CarpetOn another front, a major unresolved problem that was still facing me was that aside from the maximum 200 Yugoslavian dinars that I was allowed to possess (which was officially exchanged at the Romanian Bank), I had no other convertible currency as Romanian currency was worthless outside the country. My mother, while still in the hospital, advised me to go and buy the most expensive Romanian country art type presents (in Romanian, we called them objects of "Artizanat") such as hand made Romanian tablecloths, leather boxes with stunningly beautiful engravings, etc., as well as some bottles of the Romanian most famous liquor, similar to Vodka but made of prunes and called "Tuica." The plan was to leave Romania with only one suitcase (so as not to attract attention), and fill it up with as many presents as possible.

The Bucharest ObservatoryMy last day in Romania, Saturday April 12, 1969, on the surface appeared to be an ordinary day. I went to work as usual at the Observatory since in Romania, at that time we had six (6) working days with only Sunday off. Around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, I swallowed a small piece of chalk which almost immediately triggered a violent vomiting. This, was staged to take place in view of my immediate boss, Dr. Dinescu. Upon seeing the "scene", he rushed immediately to assist me with a glass of water. I told him that my stomach ulcer had flared up again and probably this time, I may have to stay home for some two weeks. He said that this was not a problem, and he went immediately to inform the Director of the Observatory, Prof. Dr. Dramba (who, as you may recall from the story, was the person that gave me that precious endorsement in my visa application for Yugoslavia).

[My plan now was brutally simple: I would have two (2) weeks at my disposal to attempt reaching the Free World. If those efforts failed within the prescribed time, I would return to Romania and go back to work as everybody from the Observatory knew that I had been sick and staying home.] Before leaving the premises, I left all my keys from the Observatory in the top drawer of my desk. As I was leaving the Observatory, I turned around for another look as my emotions were running very high: on one hand, I had hoped that this was the last time that I would pass through here; on the other hand I was genuinely sorry that this was the only way that was available to me to reach The United States. As I left the premises of the Observatory, I recognized that, if successful with my escape, all of my ties with the past would be cut off. In this context, I found it quite amusing that the name of the street of the Observatory was The Silver Knife (in Romanian, Cutitul de Argint) and for the last time, I smiled at this street's name as if it was telling me something!

From the Observatory I went straight back to see my dear mother for the last time who was still in the hospital. We stayed together for about 30 minutes. At that time my mother was informed of my last arrangements --that my father and perhaps my sister would go with me to the Railroad Station for the final goodbye. For the rest, we did not talk too much. My mother was very, very quiet. Apparently, there was nothing more to be said: I had to follow my destiny as I saw it. I believe that in the end we both cried without saying a word.

Nixon-CeausescuIt was now about 4 o'clock in the afternoon only hours away from my departure. I went straight home where I saw my sister. We did not talk as I went directly into my room. My sister, who is five years younger, knew nothing about my imminent departure or anything else related to my plans. For her this was another ordinary Saturday. Soon, my sister was letting me know that she was going out, the usual dating stuff. I looked at her all dressed up and asked her to sit down. She said: "It better be quick, as I don't want to be late." After I explained to her what was about to transpire, she, stunned by the news, said in despair: "What about me?, What's going to happen to me? No matter whether you succeed or not with your plan my life is going to be ruined. The Police are going to be all over us. Did you think about that?" I promised her that if I reached America, I would do everything that I could to bring her to the States. "Is this a promise?" --she asked. "Yes, it is" --I responded. [My sister eventually was able to leave Romania to Israel on the following year in 1970 during President Nixon's visit to Romania --but that is another story! Then, as promised, I helped my sister leave Israel for Bologna, Italy. There, she met her future husband an Israeli-born medical student. Subsequently, they moved to the United States residing in California where, with her husband (a psychiatrist), have now four (4) children.]

Shortly afterwards my father arrived to accompany me to the Railroad Station. I told my sister that if she wanted to come with us she must make sure that no melodramatic scenes of any sort were to take place as we would be watched at the Station by dozens of plain-clothes policemen of the infamous "Securitate" (in rough English translation "The Security Police"). All appearances, I told her, must reflect that I am going for only a two week trip. After she had agreed to this, we all three went to the Station. I had on a nice dark gray suit with a white shirt and a silk tie. Once in the Station, I embraced my father and my sister briefly and went into the train. After a brief waiving at my window of the train, my father and sister left the Station as agreed. I locked the door of my sleeping compartment that contained two parallel beds one above the other, a small table which could be converted into a sink, and a small closet. Everything was extremely clean and quite nice.

As scheduled, at 8 o'clock in the evening the train left the station and everything went smoothly. About an hour later, I heard a soft knock on my door. Opening the door, I saw the train conductor, checking for the tickets. Extremely apologetic, asking me several times whether it was all right to check my tickets now, he entered most timidly into my compartment after I had assured him that this was no bother at all for me. [The train conductor indeed had every reason to be timid and extra courteous as he would not know who I was. To understand the importance of this, in Romania, at that time, anybody who got to travel to Yugoslavia would have been a person of extreme importance due to the difficulties in obtaining such a visa. Secondly, in my case, not only did I have a first-class ticket but because I had reserved the entire compartment, I had paid twice the first-class ticket for the two existing beds. The train conductor therefore could not dare taking a chance in doing anything that may have upset me fearing that through my contacts he could have lost his job. Thus, he extended to me every imaginable courtesy.] After checking summarily my tickets, the train conductor left my compartment most gently wishing me a good night and apologizing again for his disturbance. I was relieved to see that everything went so well. It was about time to go to sleep and bring to an end one of the longest and most memorable days of my entire life.