Sunday, 23 September 2007


We have already met Andrew Savin with his story of survival of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. Remarkably he has another tale to tell.

In 1946 Andrew after returning home to Rumania decided to finish his studies. He married in 1948 and had a son two years later. They all lived in his in-law's apartment which was not unusual as there was a housing shortage. As an "oppositionist", his past political activity was recognized by the Communist Party which had come to power after the war, but he was not fully trusted because he was not of peasant or worker origin, but middle class. Also as he had continuous correspondence with his sister, who emigated to Israel in 1951 then onto Canada, and had contact with Americans when they liberated him from the concentration camp at Buchenwald, the Party were often checking up on him.

However as a propagandist for the party and after many requests in 1967 he was allowed to visit his sister in Canada for three months. He could see for himself the better life enjoyed in the Western countries as during this time he also took a trip to see his uncle in NewYork and travelled back via Paris and Rome. Everybody was telling him to remain in Canada but he could not just leave his family to fend for themselves back in Rumania. However after returning from Canada he was not regarded as politically trustworthy and therefore was demoted at work.

In 1968 the Soviet army marched into it's eastern block ally Czechoslovakia because Russia was fearful of the liberal policies being introdued there. In October Andrew, his wife and son separately obtained tourist visas for Czechoslavakia. He only told one other person of their real intent, to escape to Canada, via Austria. They travelled by car through Hungary on the way to Czechoslovakia but before crossing the Czech border tried the Hungary-Austria border. There the Hungarian customs officer took their passports, stamped them, so it was recorded they wanted to pass over the border, but then turned them back. Andrew knew that when they returned to Rumania and had to deposit their passports with the police, they would know about their intention and therefore would never get another chance for a visa to leave Rumania for any foreign country.

They drove to Czechoslovakia but were told by a Czech friend that the border with Austria was controlled by Russian soldiers. They tried two small border checkpoints on minor roads but were not even allowed to get close to the border. Before finally crossing back into Hungary they tried the last border station at Bratislava as Andrew by then did not care about the outcome. There was a long line of Austrian and German cars. Andrew's car was the only one with a licence plate from an eastern country. It took hours to advance to the checkpoint. The custom officer asked for their passports, looked at them and said "You Rumanians what the hell do you want?" Andrew stuttered in German that they would like to go home through Austria. The officer went inside an office with their passports. Meanwhile his wife and son scolded him "It will happen the same as at the Hungarian border, another stamp in our passports" They were scared to death. After 15 minutes the officer came back, told them to spend their Czech money at the border shop, gave back their passports and pointed them to the direction of Austria. They grabbed supplies at the shop and drove off fast to the Austrian border checkpoint where, without getting out, showed their passports to the Austrian officer. He waved them to pass as Rumanians didn't need a visa to enter Austria.

They drove a couple of kilometers further, then stopped at the road side, got out and lay on the grass, not believing they were in Austria. But why had the Czech officer let them through? They could only presume that he had sympathy with Rumanians because Rumania was the only eastern country who were against the Russians when the Soviet army earlier that year had taken over Czechoslovakia.

They drove to Vienna and found a friend of Andrew's sister who gave them help and money. Five months later they left for Canada, their Canadian brother in law acting as their sponsor for the emigration.

Source: Dreaming and Survival, M.I.G.S. (A. Savin)

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Return of Colonists

In about 1868 John Savin, his wife and three children with a large number of families from NewYork, Pennsylvania and some of the southern states, led on by glittering promises of the agents of the Brazilian Colonization Society, assembled in New York and emigrated to Brazil. They were given to understand, on leaving for Brazil, that each man was to be presented, on his arrival at his destination, with a tract of land and a small house, and that all would be furnished with steady and renumerative employment.

After three weeks delay in Rio Janerio they were forwarded to the colony of St. Catherine, 150 miles from the city of that name. On reaching the end of their journey they found that no provision had been made for them and that all was a wilderness. The agents appointed by the Brazilian government to superintend the affairs of the colonists were employed at nine dollars a month, neglected their duties, gave very little labour to the colonists and so grossly mismanaged affairs that great want and suffering prevailed from the first establishment of the colony. It was useless to cultivate sugar cane or any other product for the market, as that was 150 miles distant, with no means of comunication, except by launches on a treacherous river, and as there was no employment to be had the colonists were reduced to the extremities of want.

Finally, after enduring their hopeless circumstances for two seasons, in which time many left for other parts of South America, most of the colonists abandoned the wilderness and set out for home. In coming down the river their launches were capsized, resulting in the loss of nearly all their baggage. On reaching St. Catherine's the American Consul procured transportation for them to Rio, Where, after some delay, they were placed by the Brazilian government on board the British steamer "Rakaia", chartered for the purpose, and sent to New York. They reached this city utterly destitute, and the Commissioners of Emigration declining to have anything to do with them, they gathered their bundles and boxes together and slowly dispersed. About fifty people are left at the colony in Brazil, who will leave as soon as possible.

Source: The NewYork Herald 23 Feb 1870

Night of the Invasion

In 1942 Fred Savins with his wife Evelyn and children Lola, Ronald and Kevin were living on a farm at Lennox Head, near Ballina, New South Wales, Australia. It was in the middle of World War Two. At the time tension was high because the Japanese were off the east coast of Australia and Fred had been told they could invade anywhere at any time.

Fred was a member of the Volunteer Defence Corp and had to patrol the headland and beaches at night and keep check that others living in the area had their windows covered so that house lights weren't visible from the sea. If there was a landing, Fred was under instructions to destroy all manner of food, vegetable meat etc., turn on all water taps, let the animals out and clear them away from the shoreline. Nothing ws to be left for the Japs to utilize. Evelyn also learnt to drive the family car so that she could gather up the children, grab a few belongings and leave the area as quickly as possible.

One summer night while all the family were in bed, a wild storm blew up and there was a very heavy downpour. The farmhouse, like many built back in that era, had a wide verandah around three sides and there was no fence around the house.

Suddenly there was a lot of heavy trampling on the wooden verandahs. Fred's first thought was "this is it, the Japanese have landed". Fred stuck his head out through the bedroom window to check out the commotion. He thought he might as well have his head cut off right then instead of in the bedroom.

Fortunately Fred kept his head and much to his relief it wasn't the invasion but a lot of frighten calves coming in out of the heavy rain.

Source: Savins in Australia (GH &IF Savins)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Imperial Justice

In May of 1976 Richard Savin with his fiancee was en route for Pakistan where he had a work contract. They crossed the border into Iran by car at Tayebad. At this time The Shah of Iran was ruling the country as a despot with a repressive hand.

Vehicles were being searched, in the bay next to them a Landrover's interior was pulled apart and wrecked, but nothing was found. An official walked around Richard's car three times then asked them to take all their luggage out. "I want to look" he said, but he didn't look, "Doesn't matter" he then said. Looking up to Richard the official said "Mister you have hashish". He walked around the car again kicking each wheel as he went. "It's in this wheel and this wheel and this wheel". The search crew came dragging a large hydraulic jack, a wheel was taken off, the tyre seal broken on one side and lifted clear of the rim so that a hand could be slipped in. The officer then pushed his hand in up to his wrist. "Yes hashish mister". Richard was suddenly looking down the barrel of a gun as he stepped forward to look for himself but was jerked up short as someone snapped on a cuff, so he saw nothing.

A smuggling charge was trumped up, but why? Was it revenge for the run-in he had with a police officer earlier who had stopped them, looking for a handout of money, but got none or the argument he had with some locals for overcharging him for some bread taking advantage as he was a foreigner or something else, he never found out.

In due course Richard was taken to the notorious Vakil Abad jail, but his fiancee was set free. Despite being only five years old amenities in the prison were broken and delapidated. The food was meagre, the place was totally unhygenic and stank, occasionally he was beaten by the guards, all prisoners suffered from lice. Richard was taken ill a few times, once seriously with hepatitus but recovered in the prison hospital despite it only having out of date medicine. But being one of a few europeans he was treated better than the other prisoners, especially the political prisoners who were routinely tortured. He did receive some visits from the British embassy but there efforts were ineffectual.

In August Richard was taken to trial and assumed the boys in prison were exaggerating about court proceedings. The whole process seemed to be carrying on without concern for his presence. The judge started to read out the charge in Persian. In desperation he grabbed at the man next to him who turned out to be the translator. The judge paused, looking irritated and said "What is it?" in perfect English. Richard replied "I'd like to know what is happening here" and then pointed to various officials wanting to know who they were. One was his lawyer. "Well get him over here because he cannot defend me unless he knows what the defence is". His lawyer reluctantly came over to him and was given a transcript of his defence. The judge decided he would conduct the trial in English. "Where is the evidence?" Richard asked firmly but respectfully. The judge frowned "We do not need any evidence" and waved the pink paper I'd signed at gunpoint. "Here is your confesssion.You have signed it". "But you will see from the signature it was signed unread and under force" Richard protested. "Doesn't matter " said the judge. "What about the State's witnesses" the judge looked mildly shocked "Will the State not even prove my presence at Tyebad. "Why should we" objected the judge "it is you who must disprove". The judge left the room to consider the findings. "That was a very good try" the interpreter conceded. "Do I have any chance?". The interpreter laughted, "You cannot win in this court. Everybody is guilty. You will get two years and a fine". The judge returned "You are guilty. Two years plus fine". It was back to Vakil Abad prison.

Then in October 1978 Richard is set free, along with a few others, after two and a half years in prison. No explanation from the prison authorities was given nor did the British embassy have any idea why. For five days they were allowed to do what they liked in the city then Richard was recalled by immigration he was to be deported and therefore locked up in conditions as bad as the jail. On the fourth day of incarceration he was questioned by two secret police about his contact with the political prisoners and their organisation Mashad in Vakil Abad. Getting nowhere with this line of questioning he is punched to the ground by one of the police, they leave. The next day he is released and under escort put on a train going to the border, then handed over to immigration. At the border Richard's passport is inspected, "Where is your car", the official pointing to the place in the passport. "It was confiscated" replied Richard. "Without the car you cannot leave Iran". Through a side door appeared the two secret police, the reason for the charade. "It is an offence to leave a car without paying could get 5 years for this.......who do you know in Mashad?" Richard was exhausted and replied "Beat me up, shoot me, do what you like". Half an hour later one came back, gave him his passport, "Go" and shoved him through a door marked Turkey.

Source: Vakil Abad- A Survivor's Story (R. Savin)