Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-7: The Big Break

It was Tuesday morning April 14, 1969. After my usual breakfast, hot water with sugar, I went to see my friend who greeted me at the Station and asked him if during his lunch time he could come with me to the Italian Embassy. "Sure I could, but Why?" he asked. Well, I said to him that last summer, at a Romanian resort, I met a beautiful Italian woman from Trieste, Italy, and that it would be fun to visit her over the weekend. Suspicious over the story, my friend nevertheless went along with me. Since I did not speak either Yugoslavian or Italian, I needed my friend to translate at the Embassy what I wanted which was a 48-hour pass to Italy.

At the Italian Embassy in Belgrade we spoke with a Vice Consul. After explaining to him what I wanted, and after looking at my passport, he said:

"You see here in your passport it is written in black ink Good for Yugoslavia only. We, from here, cannot give you more authority in traveling than your own Government has given to you. To be allowed to travel to Italy you would have had to have that authority given to you from your Romanian Government. We cannot override that authority from here. Now, if you want, I could call Bucharest and ask for that authority over the telephone."

"No, thank you", I responded, "but that will not be necessary. I did not realize that such an involved process is needed for such a simple request." To this The Vice Consul replied:

"It is not an involved process. The process is quite simple if you had in your passport permission to travel to Italy. Instead of having written in your passport good for Yugoslavia, you needed to have written Yugoslavia and Italy."

Thanking the Vice Consul for his time we left the premises returning to the Observatory. The day went on uneventfully. In the afternoon, I got acquainted with a senior researcher from the Observatory who later invited me to his home to have dinner with his family. We had a common Hungarian heritage. When I went to my apartment in the evening, I began reflecting on everything that had transpired at the Embassy recognizing that my progress towards my escape did not look good at all. Clearly I was at an impasse with no visible solution.

Next day, Wednesday April 16, 1969, passed completely uneventfully. My original 200 Yugoslavian dinars were still intact as I was determined to cling on to this money at all cost. My dinner that day was at another home of someone from the Observatory after he received from me a beautiful Romanian leather box. I was unhappy with my lack of progress but by no means desperate.

Next morning, on Thursday April 17, 1969 I decided that I had to try my luck with the Embassy of the other bordering country with Yugoslavia, Austria. In the same way as I did two days ago, I went to my Yugoslavian friend asking him if he could assist me during his lunch hour to go to the Austrian Embassy for obtaining a 2-day entry permit for the weekend on grounds that I have a distant relative in Graz who I would like to see. Getting even more suspicious to my new story, he nevertheless agreed. The experience at the Austrian Embassy was practically a "carbon copy" experience to the one encountered at the Italian Embassy.

BelgradeAfter leaving empty handed from the Austrian Embassy, I told my friend to go back alone to the Observatory as I would like to walk and explore by myself a little bit of the city. Here I was, walking randomly in a totally unfamiliar city, tormented by this singular question: How were other Romanians able to find their way to escape and I didn't even have a clue? Clearly, I reasoned, there must be a way to get out of here to the free world as we knew in Romania of many rumored stories of such escapes. I ruled out any possibility of my running out in the darkness of night trying to cross over the border. That scenario somehow did not appeal to me at all. The solution, I reasoned, must lie somewhere else.

As I was struggling with those questions and walking nowhere in particular, suddenly I saw at a distance a giant billboard with flashing lights, impossible to miss, which was advertising to buy international railroad tickets. As a butterfly attracted by light I went straight in that direction. As I got closer, I saw the Railroad Ticket Agency right beneath. As if being hypnotized, I entered into this Agency and noted on one of its walls a beautiful mural map of Europe. I saw there the city of Graz in Austria as being extremely close to the Yugoslavian border. Without thinking too much, I went to an open cashier and asked in Russian how much a third class ticket to Graz cost. The woman responded that for a one-way ticket to Graz the cost was 180 dinars. I then asked the woman whether I could buy a ticket now if I forgot to bring my passport with me. To this she said:

"Oh, sure you can buy any ticket that you want. We do not deal with passports here. That is done at the border. Here we deal with tickets only. If you have the money you can buy any ticket that you like."

Stunned by the answer, I asked the woman for the first train to Graz. "Tomorrow evening at eight" --she replied. Then I continued by saying:

"I would like a third class ticket to Graz for tomorrow evening. Here is 200 dinars."

In no time she gave me the ticket with the 20 dinars in change. I quickly and quietly left the Agency not believing what had just transpired. I began walking euphorically through the city for a number of hours. My ecstatic mood was not so much that I was confident of the ultimate success which clearly I was not, but rather that I had found a risk-free scheme of escaping. In my mind the worse scenario that could have happened to me was that at the border I would be returned back for lack of a proper visa on my passport. The only thing that I could have lost thus was the 180 dinars paid for the ticket. And that was truly an excellent risk-factor.

Back at the Observatory, I did not say a word to anyone about what had just happened. My good Yugoslavian friend invited me for the second time to dinner as we liked each other very much. His wife was extremely attentive and liking much my Romanian tablecloth present.

Going back to my apartment, I began thinking what a tremendous break I got with the Ticket Agency here and how different from Romania the whole thing was. It was this experience of stumbling over this Ticket Agency that made me question whether or not a divine power was not in fact watching over me!

Tucked into my bed, I went to sleep knowing that this was my very last night here.