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)

No comments: