Klim's Great Escape from Communist Romania

Part-8: Reaching the Real Border

It was the morning of my last day in Yugoslavia --April 18, 1969. Over my usual breakfast (hot water with sugar!), I pondered on the tactical moves that were needed with respect to a gracious exit from here. After cleaning my apartment as much as I could, around noon time I went to see my Yugoslavian friend informing him that after all, my wish got materialized as I was leaving tonight for Graz to see over the weekend my distant relative. He was surprised hearing all this as he said: "How are you going? We just went yesterday to the Embassy and they told you that you cannot go!" To this, I answered simply that he should not worry about this as I was able to arrange all that was needed with the Embassy. Ignoring my friend's facial expression of not believing my story, I went too see my other friend to bring him the news. He was flabbergasted by the news insisting that my other friend and I come that evening for supper. Thanking him very much for the offer, I asked him if he could arrange for me to see the Director of the Observatory in the afternoon. He responded that he would let me know shortly.

Around 3 o'clock in the afternoon I was able to see the Director. Thanking him for the hospitality that I had received, I continued by saying that I would be going for three (3) days to see a distant relative in Graz. Rather amused by my statement he said:

"How interesting! Some six months ago a Russian astronomer was here who said exactly the same thing, word by word. And you know what? --he never returned!"

"My goodness!," I responded, "How such a thing was possible? It is incredible that people could do such a thing!"

With a subtle smile, the Director shook my hand wishing me a good trip. Leaving his office, I was determined to ignore all facial expressions of disbelief in my story. I was like a horse wearing blinders seeing only the road ahead that needed to be traveled.

We had an early supper around 5 PM. My friends were teasing me about my supposed 3-day trip, one asking me if I was taking all my luggage in view that I would be gone for only three days. Playing my game of not understanding the question, I was unshakable from my script! The host friend gave me as a present a beautiful swiss army knife and a nice pair of cufflinks. We all went in my host friend's car to the Station. After a brief goodbye and an embrace my friends left. It was about 7 o'clock in the evening. A few minutes later my train pulled into the station. I looked and looked at this train as if being mesmerized by its presence.

After receiving some help in finding my compartment, I entered into it being the first passenger there. The compartment was composed of two parallel wooden benches. My seat was in the coner near the door of the compartment and faced the direction of motion of the train. Soon after my arrival the compartment became filled. All were Yugoslavian Gypsies. They wore many jewelry and rings with heavy perfumes and greasy hair. I tried to be friendly with them and engaged them in small talk in Russian. I learned that they went almost every week to Austria to buy small radio-transistors and sold them back home in Yugoslavia. Asking them if they knew when the train would reach the border with Austria, they let me know that that time would be 7:30 next morning. I asked if they were positive about the time, and they seemed very sure. During the evening hours I also had a chance to inquire from other people, including the ticket conductor, about the expected time that the train would arrive at the border. All the answers pointed to 7:30 AM. That was the time thus that I had to face my destiny.

Before I left Romania, I asked my father (a physician) what nerve calming tablets I could take with me on my trip to calm me down in a tense situation. He recommended a Romanian tablet called Carbaxin. I was told that this Carbaxin when taken will reach the peak of its performance in 30 minutes.

It was 7 o'clock in the morning of Saturday April 19, 1969 and I was preparing myself for the most important and dramatic hour of my entire life. The emotions began to engulf me slowly but surely. I took two tablets of that Romanian Carbaxin and I was hoping that they would calm me down. In about 20 minutes I felt considerably better and much more relaxed. I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for my destiny!

YugoAustIt was 7:35 AM and the train stopped moving. Looking out the window, I saw that we were at the border. It was a plain strip of land, not very wide, and I could see on our side the Yugoslavian Flag and on the other side the Austrian Flag. A few minutes later I heard a voice coming towards me louder and louder: Passport Check ... Passport Check! Finally a young, skinny man in uniform in his early twenties approached our Compartment asking to see our passports. He took in an orderly fashion the passport of each Gypsy and placed a stamp with the date of the day: April 19, 1969. As he was doing this, I was pondering how close I was to the free world and now, in a matter of seconds, that I would be told that I did not have a valid passport to visit Austria and thus that I would have to return back to Belgrade. As I was entertaining these thoughts, it was my turn and I handed him my passport.

He in a most gentle way took my passport and looked immediately straight into my eyes. He opened the passport looked at my picture and then again looked straight into my eyes. I was expecting any second now to hear something like this: "Hey you idiot, you cannot go further as you don't have a valid passport. Take your suitcase as you need to return back." But none of this happened. He opened in a deliberate slow motion the second page of my passport, which was empty, and then again looked straight into my eyes. Then he continued with this routine 24 times!: each time he opened an empty page of my passport he looked straight into my eyes. He was now at the last page of my passport: he again looked as before straight into my eyes, closed the passport, handed the passport back to me and as he was looking one final time into my eyes said "Thank You" and he left. We were still sitting at the border. About 20 more minutes passed and I heard a different voice shouting: Passport Check ... Passport Check! I was convinced that the young Yugoslavian border official contacted his supervisor informing him that I had an invalid passport for traveling to Austria, and now that supervisor was here to get me.

As I was entertaining those somber thoughts sitting at the edge of my seat, here I was again, facing a new Yugoslavian border immigration official. The new man was chubby, in his fifties, with a stunning moustache rolled at the ends in a spectacular way. He summarily looked at the passports of the Gypsies before he asked for my passport. As I handed him my passport, he looked straight into my eyes. Then in a similar fashion as that of the young border offical, he opened methodically each and every page of my passport, each time looking straight into my eyes. At the end of his passport examination, he looked one more time straight into my eyes. Then, he handed over my passport, said "Thank You" to me and he left. I did not know what to make of all this much less the fact that neither of the two border officials had placed any stamp into my passport. The train was still sitting without moving on the Yugoslavian side. To cross the border into Austria, which you could see from the train window, would probably required no more than 30 seconds. I was so close and yet so far from the free world. As I was thinking about all this, the train began moving but after only 10 seconds the train stopped again! My heart almost stopped beating as well.

I was now positive that the train stopped again so that the Yugoslavian Police could embark the train and either arrest me or at the very least remove me from the train. Excruciating minutes followed while I pondered over my fate. After a few more minutes of waiting, I heard a man's voice coming louder and louder from the train's corridor: Customs inspection!, Customs inspection! When the customs official entered into our compartment he checked rather meticulously some of the Gypsies luggage but, to my surprise, he did not check mine. When I asked him why he was not checking my luggage he, with a nice smile on his face, stated they did not have time to check everyone's luggage and that these checks were done on a random basis. After that, to my enormous relief, he left and went to the next compartment for checking luggage.

Finally the train was moving and yes, we had crossed the border. We were now in Austria!!! Shortly afterwards the train stopped, this being the first stop on free soil. My plan was now very simple: as soon as the Austrian immigration official would enter the train to check for the passport I would ask for Political Asylum. A young, tall, red-haired man whistling a song entered our compartment saying to everyone in a very joyous voice "Good Morning!, Good Morning! ". He then, without any sort of examination, took everyone's passport and rapidly stamped on an open page of each passport the date of entry which was April 19, 1969. He then quickly left for the next compartment. Dove

I was actually free!, free!, free! What an indescribable feeling! I was happy beyond anything that I had experienced in my entire life. Everything was surreal as if I had been reborn. My first day in freedom had just begun.