Articles

We are escaping from bad men in the forest and ... IF YOU CRY, THEY WILL GET US”

With these mind-scarring words this Hungarian couple silenced their child as they blundered and bribed their way through the Iron Curtain to freedom in Canada

PETER KERESZTES November 15 1953
Articles

We are escaping from bad men in the forest and ... IF YOU CRY, THEY WILL GET US”

With these mind-scarring words this Hungarian couple silenced their child as they blundered and bribed their way through the Iron Curtain to freedom in Canada

PETER KERESZTES November 15 1953

We are escaping from bad men in the forest and ... IF YOU CRY, THEY WILL GET US”

With these mind-scarring words this Hungarian couple silenced their child as they blundered and bribed their way through the Iron Curtain to freedom in Canada

PETER KERESZTES

as told to June Callwood

LAST SUMMER just before my wife and daughter and I were to leave on a vacation to Muskoka my wife suddenly threw herself on the bed in our Toronto apartment and hid her face. “I can’t do it,” she began to moan. “How can I manage to pack our clothes? How will we find the right train? I can’t manage it, I can’t. It’s too difficult.”

These attacks of fear and indecision have occurred before. Once in Paris on an escalator she was struck with such terror that she nearly fainted. Another time in Toronto she had to draw on all her courage to climb on a bus and go to work. “You are safe now,” I said to her this time as I had before. “It’s all over and we are in Canada. You’re safe, Judith, safe.”

As we climbed on the Muskoka train my wife’s face was still anxious and I felt her hand trembling hut a few days after we arrived at the cottage of some friends she was her old self again, gay and witty and full of plans.

The Taste of Fear Still Remains

There are names to describe what we arej— immigrants, refugees, stateless, DPs—and they all have an ugly sound. Four years ago we were Hungarians and like most Hungarians who have left their Communist-controlled country in recent years we did so at night, while searchlights sparkled off the barbed wire around us and a dog, chained somewhere in the darkness, snarled viciously. It is because of this that my wife, who was unnaturally calm and nerveless when we were dodging the police in Budapest, sometimes breaks down and cannot face a decision as trivial as whether to pack one or two sweaters for our daughter.

Maybe these periodic attacks, the reaction of our tragi-comic three months of trying to escape, are over now. We have been in Canada for two and a half years and our fantastic adventure is beginning to blur. The other evening my wife and I were in a Toronto restaurant, eating by candlelight while someone played the piano softly. “The worst moment of our escape,” my wife observed dreamily, “was when the Austrian frontier guards turned us hack.” I was astonished. “No, no, Judith,” I said. “It was much worse when the Slovak police leaped out of that taxi and grabbed us.” Soon, perhaps, we will forget entirely how fear tastes and the sharp agony of an unexpected knock on the door. It is time to write it down before it is gone.

Our story begins in Budapest in the summer of 1949 when our life was wonderful. We lived in a six-room villa apartment high on a hill overlooking the Danube, drank our coffee in the sunshine on our balcony and watched the panorama of the city and

the river. Judith’s father, a brilliant man who spoke six languages perfectly and had three doctorates, had given her his priceless library of two thousand books, hundreds of them irreplaceable histories of art. We had a collection of more than a hundred recordings of symphonies and concertos we loved and our walls were hung with valuable paintings. Every piece of our furniture had been specially made but none was prized so much as the nursery furniture in our daughter’s room because it had also belonged to my wife’s happy childhood. Our baby Annemarie, a laughing child with a deep tan and a tangle of yellow curls, slept in a white bed beside a window seven feet long.

I was a sales engineer with my own agency, representing manufacturing companies all over Europe. Since our marriage three years before Judith had worked with me as my secretary to help build up the agency to the point where we were very comfortable financially. When Annemarie was

born we hired a nurse to care for her and cook for us. Every morning Judith had breakfast in bed and every evening she returned home from our office to find the table set for supper.

Evenings when I worked—for I was very ambitious Judith met with some young friends from the university to discuss philosophy. We had season tickets to two concert series that were to begin that fall. Sometimes we ate in lovely little open-air restaurants under trees hung with paper lanterns, where violinists wandered from table to table. It was, as I have said, a wonderful life—and for two years we did not realize that, inevitably, it would have to come to an end.

At first the Communist regime scarcely made any difference to people like us and their friends doctors, teachers, musicians and architects—who were neither openly for or against the Communists, and who deliberately lived as passive a life as possible. But after the Communists had been in control of the police for a year or two it became apparent that our middle road was no longer acceptable. By the summer of 1949 there was no neutral ground. Failure to join the Party now was regarded almost as open defiance. We saw fewer and fewer of our former friends as circumstances forced them into one camp or the other. It was too dangerous to be seen with known antiCommunists and we chose to discard our friends who became Communists.

My wife had been eager for a year to leave the country, but I hated to abandon my flourishing business. I used the excuses that perhaps it wouldn’t get any worse, that probably we would be let alone, that in any case we would need a good deal of money and I had not yet saved enough. While we ai'gued, out of earshot of our servant, it became more and more difficult to get out of the country. In 1948 it had been possible to make a “donation” to the Communist Party and secure a valid passport; after that the passport became impossible but the border was relatively unguarded. By the summer of 1949, however, check-ups on all roads leading to the frontier had begun, watch-towers with searchlights were spotted along the border, patrols with man-hunting dogs, mine-fields, machine gun emplacements and barbed wire lay between Hungary and freedom. The papers were full of stories of the capture of fleeing Hungarians; everyone caught received a harsh prison sentence after which it would be difficult for him to get work. It was whispered that these people were also beaten and tortured.

Every day I grew more disgusted and ashamed of myself because I would have to pretend to agree with some dreadful remark a Communist business acquaintance would make. Finally something happened to bring me to resolution—at the end of June a by-law was published canceling the trade licenses of foreign agencies. This was the end of my business. There was no longer anything to hold me in Budapest. We began looking for a guide to lead us across the border.

One night on a rare visit to some friends who were known to be against the regime we dared to mention that we were hoping to escape. To our delight they told us they too were leaving soon, and gave us the name of a woman who was to smuggle them across the border. If they arrived safely in Vienna they would send a vaguely worded telegram and we would know their guide had been reliable. We waited impatiently for almost two weeks until we heard our friends were in Vienna. They had arranged previously with the woman that we would go on September second. At that moment the problem that had gnawed at us so long seemed, after all, overrated.

First we set about selling the lease of our apartment. In Budapest the lease is purchased by a new tenant and sold when he leaves. We advertised that ours was for sale for fifteen thousand forints, about twelve hundred and fifty dollars at the official exchange rate, and we were careful to explain we were forced to give it up because our circumstances had been reduced. Selling a lease immediately made the police suspect an escape was being planned. Many people visited the apartment, but the price was too high for them. Finally a seedy young man said he would take it. We began to distribute our belongings to our friends.

The furniture, rugs, books, pictures and records were loaded at night into cars and taken to homes of friends. Judith hated parting with the nursery furniture. Losing the books caused us the greatest anguish because they had been collected slowly and lovingly for two generations. It was understood that if the Communists ever left Hungary we would have our things back, but we never expect to see them again.

People who notice how fondly we speak of our former home ask how we could leave such lovely things when we were in no immediate danger. It wasn’t so difficult because we had realized that our kind of people were doomed in the new state and our books and paintings would be taken from us. Some friends who were richer than we and owned many works of art could not bring themselves to abandon their collections. They are still in Hungary, but they have lost everything.

We are a sentimental couple and the one book we cared for most of all is the album which contained Annemarie’s baby pictures, locks of her hair cut when she was an infant, again at six months and again at a year. We even have an outline drawing of her hands and feet at those ages. This precious book we gave to some Jewish friends of ours who were permitted to emigrate to Israel and take some baggage. They got the book through safely and mailed it to us when we got out of Hungary.

Ile Was An Informant

Meanwhile the seedy young man who said he would buy our lease kept returning full of excuses for not paying us the money. Each time he came his shifty eyes took in the empty spaces on the book shelves, the bare floors, the place where our reproduction of a fourteenthcentury Crivelli Madonna had hung. We couldn’t understand his motive but it began to dawn on us that he had no intention of paying, hoping to outlast us and get the place free. With five days to go before we were due to leave, we put the matter in the hands of a real estate agent and he sold our lease for ten thousand forints, about eight hundred and thirty dollars. We moved into a boarding house and waited with great excitement for September second.

I was kept busy organizing our clothing. Most of our things were packed into ten trunks and stored in the basement of a trusted friend. I filled a leather trunk with Judith’s best suits and dresses, our daughter’s little frocks, some suits of mine, our jewels and my wife’s furs. Along with some business documents and about two hundred and fifty dollars in Hungarian money, I gave this trunk to a sleeping-car attendant on the train between Budapest and Vienna. I tipped him liberally and asked him to deliver these articles to a friend of ours in Vienna. I must admit I was enormously impressed with the brilliant way I had arranged our departure.

Our first shock came when the new tenant of our apartment phoned us to say the police had been notified that we had fled the country and that our lease was going to be granted to the informant as a bonus. We realized that the informant was the seedy young man who had guessed the truth. I now had to take a bold step. I appeared in person at a police station and asserted that I certainly had not left the country. I was still in such good standing that positions were being offered me in Communist companies. 1 assured them I would consider their offers.

September second came and we had no word either from our guide or the sleeping-car attendant. We decided to visit the attendant to find out if everything had gone smoothly. His home in a nearby suburb was dirty and neglected and Judith, Annemarie and I were received by a disheveled woman surrounded by filthy children. She wept when we mentioned her husband, shrieked that he was always leaving her and usually with some woman, demanded to know if my wife was one of bis women and finally explained that he had gone ten days before and she had beard nothing.

We were horrified. If the police had captured our man the business documents would incriminate me. Perhaps the police were already at our rooming house; maybe they were watching for us to turn up at this very house. We were afraid even to get the train at the station near the house. We walked along the tracks past two stations, looking over our shoulders to see if we were followed, before we dared to get on the train for Budapest.

We phoned the boarding house and our landlady said affably that no one

WRONG NUMBER

It wasn’t just the stolen kiss That made her feelings whir; What bothered her was only this —

The theft was not from her.

D. E. Twiggs

had been asking for us. Was this a trick? We discussed the nuances in her voice, her character and possible political leanings. Eventually we concluded we would have to hide. Judith phoned one of her young university friends, a musician, who said he had a small boat moored at a nearby resort. We could stay in the cabin, he offered, though it was rather cramped.

With Annemarie, then two and a half and fascinated with the varied life her parents suddenly were offering her, we moved into the boat. It was a terrible place to live. Our friend had never slept a night in it, though it had bunks of a sort; he used it only to change for swimming. The broad sandy beach was deserted by vacationers, since it was the second week of September, so we kept in the cabin to avoid suspicion. During the day we ate fruit and bread and after dark we slipped out and bought dinner at a small restaurant. While Judith and Annemarie ate, trying not to start when a policeman passed the restaurant, I phoned a close friend who had helped us contact the sleeping-car attendant. A week passed and he had no news at all. On Sunday we watched some people on the beach who came to feed crusts to the gulls. They seemed to laugh an inordinate amount.

On the eighth day our close friend had news at last. The sleeping-car attendant had come to his home and returned my business documents, explaining piteously that he hadn’t been able to deliver the clothes and money. The train had been searched unexpectedly and he had thrown the trunk and money out of the window, retaining only the documents. It was an insanely flimsy story—he had obviously stolen the clothes and money —but he knew perfectly well we couldn’t report him to the police.

Cheating and stealing from people who were trying to flee the country was the safest and most rewarding form of employment in all Hungary. Criminals prospered and farmers living along the frontier reaped a fortune from a crop that was unaffected by drought or

vermin. Nonetheless there was some consolation in the fact that our man was just a common thief because it meant that the police still didn’t know our intention and it was safe to return to the boarding house. We gaily told the landlady we had been having a marvelous holiday, paid her some more rent in advance—I still had over two thousand dollars left of my savings — and attempted to look carefree as we went past her into our room.

Then we had another blow. The woman guide who was supposed to be getting us to Vienna had not showed up. An intermediary told us she had decided the trip would he too dangerous with a small child who might cry at a crucial moment. We cursed her bitterly for not letting us know and began looking for another guide. We enquired with the utmost discretion among our closest friends. Many of Budapest’s underground were engaged in smuggling people across the border and everyone knew someone who knew someone who knew of a guide. We met only in homes and at night—a conversation on a street or in a cafe might he overheard. In the daytime I dropped into several offices and solemnly enquired about a position. I was trying to give an impression of normalcy hut my fear was growing.

Finally we found another guide, a sinister man who hid his face behind his upturned collar. He said he was wanted by the police, which we could believe. With uneasy minds we arranged with him to leave in a few days. Two days before the set time I got a boil so severe that I had to be hospitalized for an operation. The boil turned out to be the instrument of a benign fate—the group of refugees we were to join was captured just inside the Hungarian border and thrown into prison.

Early in October T was ready to travel again and a business acquain tance told me of a lodge on the Austrian frontier where he had just spent his summer holidays. “The border is wide open there,” he remarked. “I strolled over to Austria one afternoon just to see what it was like. Nothing to it ”

Judith said good-by to her mother. “I’ll never see you again,” her mother cried, “hut 1 know this is important to your future and your child’s ” She gave Judith a trinket, a silver-plated Madonna and Child which she piously hoped would help avert the eyes of any border patrol.

We told our astonished landlady that we were again going away for a vacation, paid her in advance for the room to alleviate her suspicions, and set off for the airport where we purchased a round trip ticket to the border town. We traveled by air because that way we had to pass through only two check points, one at each end of the trip. Buses and trains were checked repeatedly.

As we were crossing the field to our plane we had to pass through a bristling group of guards and we were reminded sharply that Annemarie had been to this airport before, the summer before when we had seen Judith’s sister, a British citizen, off for London. Annemarie smiled up at the guards, skipped a step in excitement and squealed, “You know, we are flying to London to see my aunt!” Judith snatched at her, her heart cold with terror. Loyal Hungarian citizens never spoke the word London, much less planned to visit it. We waited for someone to seize us but the guards only chuckled. “What a lovely child,” one of them smiled. Weakly, we smiled hack. They hadn’t understood her.

We arrived in the town and discovered at once that our friend had lied about strolling into Austria. The frontier was strongly guarded. Through a woman at the lodge who said she was a baroness-we now didn’t believe anyonewe met a guide who seemed experienced. He asked twenty-four thousand forints, about two thousand dollars, to take us across, explaining that he would have to split with an Austrian and a Hungarian friend who was one of the border guards. I arranged with a close friend in Budapest to give this guide one half the amount —I had left my money behind to avoid suspicion in case of a search on the plane. If 1 escaped the country

without needing it, he was to have kept it. This time I entered wholeheartedly into the spirit of intrigue. I gave my Budapest friend a password and my guide the same password. The money would lx; paid only to the man with the right word. This was sheer nonsense, because the guide collected the money with no intention of taking us across the border. In fact, we later learned, he was toying with the idea of turning us in and collecting a reward from the police.

He returned to us and began an elaborate game of inventing excuses for

the delay in departure. First he said the Austrian was not available; then that his Hungarian friend had disappeared. This went on for two weeks, with Judith and me frantically aware that it looked very strange for people to be vacationing at a deserted resort at the end of October. Finally he agreed that we would leave the next night. We met in his apartment and were buckling on warm boots when the phone rang. Our guide turned to us in magnificent dismay. “The frontier guards who were friendly to me have been changed!” he cried. “We will have to wait two

weeks!” We realized we had been tricked again, took the plane tickets we had never expected to use and returned to Budapest. We were too crushed to speak.

We arrived back at our boarding house for the third time, aware that our landlady must think us mad. We contacted the friend who had given our thousand dollars to the guide and he was astounded to hear from us. The guide had told him we were already in Austria and he had celebrated our success. A year later, in Paris, we learned that this guide habitually turned over to the authorities people he promised to help escape. I believe he spared us because he had received such a large sum of money and was afraid it would be taken from him, but Judith, who is very sentimental, says it is because he had a two-year-old daughter like our Annemarie. It seems implausible to me that such a sadist would have a soft spot for a child.

We then suffered a fresh calamity. A friend of ours was planning to smuggle some jewels out of the country with the help of an intermediary and I asked him to enclose with his jewels a letter reporting on business affairs which were still pending when I had been forced to close my office. A special permit had to be obtained to send business letters out of the country and I knew I could not obtain one. I phoned this friend when we returned, to enquire how he had made out with his jewels and my letter, and learned he had just been arrested. The smuggler he had trusted had been caught. I realized I would be the next stop for the police—and that from that moment my wife, my baby and I were fugitives. We had reached the point of no return; it was no longer possible to toy with the idea of leaving the country. It had become almost a matter of life or death.

We called our best friends and asked them to hide us, but all of them were afraid. I continued to phone while Judith packed a few bits of clothes and kept Annemarie involved in aimless conversation. At last someone agreed to let us stay in an unused utility room in his apartment house. We told the landlady we would be away again for a short time and paid her some more money in advance. We managed to disappear in two hours, only minutes ahead of the police.

The utility room was small and cluttered and the caretaker who admitted us was obviously suspicious. We told him our own apartment was being redecorated and prayed he would be satisfied. My face is rather easily recognized, since I must wear glasses and 1 have a bald head, so we agreed that Judith would try to find a guide. She changed her appearance every time she went out, sometimes with a handkerchief over her head, sometimes by leaving her long hair loose on her shoulders and sometimes pinning it back severely. I sat in the room all day keeping Annemarie quiet by telling lier stories. The blind was drawn and I stared a lot at the wallpaper. It was a faded, ugly green. I was growing a mustache and developed a nervous habit of fingering it constantly. We had trouble sleeping at night, both of us rigid with fear, and we were too nervous ever to be hungry. Judith said the most dreadful moment of the day for lier was just before she opened the door of my room after returning from the streets. She never knew whether she would find Annemarie and me there or the police.

On rainy nights we visited some friends who were within walking distance. I always kept the umbrella pulled close over my head and we always took Annemarie with us. One night we visited a pleasant home where there were warm pools of light under the lamps, the furniture gleamed with wax, a fire flickered in the fireplace and their children’s nursery was filled with dolls. We realized with anguish that only a short time ago we too had lived like this.

We met many guides through friends but we were now excessively suspicious. Finally we decided to try one of them, a ranger who lived near the Czechoslovakian border and who promised to take us through Slovakia and on to Vienna. This meant we would cross two borders, the Hungarian-Slovakian and the Slovakian-Austrian, but he seemed the most reliable man we had yet met. He wanted thirty-six thousand forints, thirty-two hundred dollars, but we were now almost penniless. There was, however, one way in which we might obtain money.

I must explain that people with large savings were aware that their money might be confiscated at any time and ; there were hundreds of underground schemes for getting Hungarian money out of the country and into a bank beyond the Iron Curtain. I had not collected all the commissions due me from foreign companies before I closed my office and I was able to borrow the entire amount I needed from a man who was almost a stranger, on agreement to deposit certain of these commissions in a Swiss bank in his name if I should manage to escape. If I didn’t make it — well, he knew he would lose his money eventually to the state.

Cold-Blooded Approach

We made our arrangements to go— again. Because of the harsh penalties for smuggling anything of value out of the country—worse even than those for trying to smuggle yourself out—we removed our gold wedding rings. The cheap Madonna trinket from her mother was the only ornament Judith kept. We packed a brief case with a blouse and underwear for Judith, some socks, underwear, shaving things and a shirt for me. We had two net marketing bags for Annemarie’s things, one for her changes of underwear and a dress, and another for her beloved stuffed doll, an aluminum chamber pot and a pillow. We tied our rubber boots together and 1 carried them slung over my shoulder.

I am a prudent man and I decided an : umbrella was also important. Judith wore a leather overcoat—It was now November nineteenth—I had a coat such as worn by rangers and bushmen, and Annemarie wore a navy blue reefer with gold buttons. This was everything we owned in the world.

We paid the ranger the first installment of the money and he told us to meet him at a bus terminal in Elisabeth Park (now Stalin Park). According to the ritual of intrigue which no longer seemed over-dramatic to us, we would pretend not to recognize one another. We bought tickets for Salgotarjan, a village near the I poly River that divides Hungary from Czechoslovakia.

1 carried the second installment of the j money for our ranger in a newspaper, { which 1 put on the luggage rack in the j bus above our heads. I pushed it I along until it was closer to the people ¡ in the seats in front of us than it was to me. If it was discovered we would not claim it. This may seem coldblooded now. At that time we thought only of self-preservation.

We told the guards who checked the bus that we were going to the village for a week end with some friends. We ! still had our identification cards and we tried to keep our faces blank. In j moments like that, when our fear was ! acute, I found myself incapable of ; thought and my speech even seemed slower. Judith becomes deadly calm when she is afraid—only after the : danger is past does she break down—

and her brain churns furiously. She is a splendid woman with whom to flee the country.

In the dark of night we arrived at our destination and were met by a farmer’s cart. I paid the guide the rest of the money in the newspaper and we went in the cart to another village where we slept in a cottage belonging to a friend of the guide. Early next day we left in the cart again and all day we rode along, smiling and chatting whenever we passed anyone. Judith kept Annemarie amused with stories -she must have told her the one about

Snow White ten times that day. Annemarie laughed and sang and enjoyed herself hugely.

That night we arrived at the frontier, the Ipolv River. We stayed in another farm cottage where we found another couple who would be making the trip with us. The woman was the mother of three children and was running away from her family with a very unsavory person. We came to know them very well. This man suggested we throw away everything we had that showed a Hungarian origin, toothpaste, razor blades, documents, money, the

labels on our clothes. Then, he explained, if we were captured before we crossed the Hungarian border we could try to convince the guards we were Slovakians; if we were captured in Czechoslovakia, we would insist we were Austrians. Judith and 1 speak perfect German, it is the second language of educated people in Hungary, so we decided we could pretend to be Austrians. We threw away everything that marked us Hungarian.

We were supposed to start across the river at dusk, but our guide chose this evening to become gloriously drunk.

“I’ll bet you can’t stand,” he shouted at our host. “Ho!” the host yelled back. “Let’s see who can stand!” We watched helplessly, Annemarie in our arms in a drugged sleep from a sedative we had purchased in Budapest. It was after ten at night when we left, the guide reeling joyously. Ten minutes later we discovered that the I poly had overflowed its banks and was a halfmile-wide roaring river with all places to ford it under deep water. Our guide felt challenged by this misfortune and insisted we walk along beside the river until we find a shallow place. At one in the morning he had another idea—we would walk across a swamp and along a railway embankment which ran parallel with the border for some distance and then cross it.

We walked, with Annemarie in my arms, in total darkness along a fiveinch path beside the rails, sometimes along railway bridges over abysses, sometimes with water on hoth sides and steep slopes plunging down. Several times I slipped and rolled down the embankment. The first time I fell — still clutching Annemarie—she was startled from sleep in spite of the sedative and cried out. We were all frozen into horror because the guards were so close we could sometimes hear their voices and see the lights from their frontier stations. Judith stepped up to the crying child and said plainly: “Annemarie, we are escaping from bad men in the forest and if you cry they will get us.”

Annemarie never cried again. It was a terrible thing to tell a child and we have felt wretched about it ever since, but it was so necessary. Annemarie still remembers that. The other day something reminded her of it as she was leaving for school here in Toronto. “I was good that time, wasn’t 1 mother?” she said thoughtfully. “I didn’t cry.” She was only two, a baby.

We walked that night for seven hours and my daughter seemed unbearably heavy. I thought my heart and lungs would burst and that 1 would collapse. The last stretch was through a swamp, where every step we took made a deep hole that sucked at our boots. Finally, at five in the morning, we arrived in a Czechoslovakian village and fell at once into a deep sleep in the home of a friend of our guide.

Two hours later, while we were cleaning the mud from our clothing, 1 mentioned to my wife that carrying the child had been agony.

“You should have carried the umbrella!” she retorted hotly. “It kept catching in the trees and bushes every step l took. The child was nothing compared to the umbrella!” This now seems to us extremely comical, but at

the time we were so tired and frightened that it resulted in an argument over the respective disadvantages of fleeing a country carrying a child or an umbrella.

The part of Czechoslovakia we now had to cross is a narrow peninsula whose principal city, Bratislava, is near the Austrian border. We slept only two hours and arose in the darkness before dawn to take the train for Bratislava, an unavoidable transit point for refugees going to Vienna. For this reason all trains were met at the station by the police. Ours was a work train arriving at dawn and it was the only train that day to escape a police check. The guide took us to a restaurant, suggested we order a bowl of potato soup and wait an hour while he met a friend who was to take us across the Austrian border.

One hour passed, then two, then five. We had no money so we were idiotically pretending that it took us five hours to eat a bowl of soup. The waiters fortunately didn’t seem to care. Annemarie ran about the restaurant, chattering in Hungarian, but we were too exhausted and upset to stop her. When our guide appeared at last he reported that his friend who knew the way to Vienna was out of town for two days. We exchanged looks of pure horror. The hiding of refugees was punished severely in Bratislava and our guide unhappily said he knew nowhere to hide us.

Judith remembered a name and an address of some people she knew slightly, who had once said if we were ever in Bratislava we must look them up. Our guide went there and asked them if we could all stay with them for the afternoon, while he tried to find a refuge for us. The people reluctantly agreed, but that night they were furious when the guide returned and said he had had no luck and we would have to stay there for two days. By that time our acquaintances were trapped; if they threw us out and we were captured they were afraid we would tell the police where we had spent the day.

My wife, Annemarie and I slept on a bed in a back room, the guide and the other couple on sofas in the hall. Our raging host fed us sausages and bread but he was kind to Annemarie and fed her from his own table. Our guide’s friend failed to appear and we were in this house for a week.

During this time the couple who had come with us quarrelled fiercely. The man would be in an uncontrollable fury if his shirt was not ironed perfectly. Judith and I spent our time fabricating our story that we would tell if we were caught: That we were Austrians who had come to Bratislava on a visit and had sneaked across the border because we didn’t have passports. We knew a Bratislava family that had moved away, so we named them as the friends we had been visiting. We kept our same names, except for the surname which had a Hungarian flavor, our same birth dates and our same parents’ names. This would make it less likely that we could be confused and forget some detail. Judith and 1 shook hands solemnly and said we would never admit we were Hungarians, not even if they tortured us.

At last our guide found someone to

take us to Austria, but they wanted more money. We had nothing but to our amazement our friend with the perfectly ironed shirts showed the guide some jewels and said he would turn them over to the Austrian guides when we arrived safely. When the guides left, our friend laughed heartily and explained the jewels were fake. We were no longer surprised by anything.

The plan the next night was to put our luggage in a taxi which would precede us across the bridge over the Danube. We would follow in a bus. This elaborate arrangement was to

avoid the checks on taxis crossing the bridge. Austria was only eight miles away and, once across the bridge, we would join our luggage in the taxi and drive in luxury to the frontier.

We gave Annemarie a sedative again and took the bus across the bridge. There we climbed out and looked for the taxi. 11 was not there and we waited impatiently for ten minutes before it arrived. I was reaching for the door when it suddenly flew open and four policemen spilled out. The guides instantly disappeared into the darkness but we refugees were too startled to

move. We were arrested and taken to a police station for questioning.

Judith and T began telling our story about being Austrians, trying to get home after an imprudent illegal visit. We named Salzburg, in the American occupation zone, as our home because it would be hard to trace the lie through the Americans. Since it is the birthplace of Mozart we assumed it must have a Mozartstrasse and we gave this as our address. We said Annemarie spoke Hungarian because she was being raised by a sister who had married a Hungarian and, though they lived in Austria, he insisted on speaking nothing but Hungarian.

“She speaks perfect German,” we told the police, speaking only German ourselves. “We can’t understand her Hungarian and we can’t make her speak German to us. You try and make her speak German; she is such a stubborn child.”

We had forgotten to tell Annemarie that she had a new last name. Judith thought of this and asked permission to take her to the bathroom. With the guard standing outside the door Judith continually flushed the toilet to cover the sound of her voice whispering over and over again “You are not Annemarie Keresztes my darling. You are Annemarie Gyselian. Gyselian, Gyselian. Now say it after me.” She is such a clever child and she learned her new name at once.

The police separated us, put us in a prison and questioned us day after day for two weeks. One time they went to Judith and said 1 had confessed I was a Hungarian. She trembled in real fright. “What have you done to him to make him tell this lie?” she screamed. “You have tortured him or he would never have said anything so untrue! What have you done!”

A Cool Proposal

This convinced them and the same night they put us in a police car and drove us to the border. We walked across between the Slovakian frontier post and the Austrian one with high hearts. The Austrian guards, however, refused to believe we were Austrians without a passport and angrily ordered us back to Czechoslovakia. It was a dreadful moment.

The Slovakian police were indignant when we returned. “You have been a terrible nuisance,” the chief shouted. “1 thought I was finally rid of you and I have closed our file on you. Now we shall have no more nonsense. You will be sent to Hungary where 1 am sure you belong.”

My wife was cool. “If we are such a problem,” she suggested mildly, “why not leave the file closed and put us somewhere near the border. We will get back to Austria illegally as we planned in the first place and you will be rid of us.” We will never understand why he agreed; maybe he had a kind heart. That night the Slovakian police drove us to an unguarded section of the frontier, pushed us roughly toward the Russian zone of Austria and snarled: “Go that way and don’t dare to come back any more!” We didn’t even look back. It was a cold, raining night, December ninth. We stumbled across the border, fell into each other’s arms and cried. This was the final irony—a police escort to freedom after we had dodged police for so long.

We didn’t dare walk along the highway for fear of Russian patrols so 1 once again took Annemarie on my shoulders and we walked through a terrible thicket. It took us an hour to go a hundred yards. Once we came unexpectedly on the Danube, flowing swiftly below us at the bottom of a steep gorge. 11 was hidden in a swirling fog and looked so weird that we were unnerved and decided to walk along the highway after all. Whenever we saw the lights of an oncoming car we would throw ourselves to the ground. We were huddled in a ditch when Annemarie’s tiny voice sweetly asked: “When will I sleep in my white bed again?” Our throats filled so that we couldn’t answer her.

We came to a village about eight o’clock and pounded on the door of a likely-looking home. We wanted the directions to Vienna but we were also hopeful that someone would feed us and lend us money. The owner of the house slammed the door when we opened the conversation by saying we were refugees.

We walked again, twelve miles in all. until we came to another village. It was about eleven at night and Annemarie was crying bitterly. A woman passed us, leading a child of Annemarie’s age. “What’s the matter?” she asked kindly. We were at the point where we had to take a chance. “We TTXefugees,” my wife said simply. “She is hungry and tired.” The woman’s face softened. “Come with me,” she said.

We washed, ate good warm food and slept that night in a bed. The next day the woman, though very poor, gave us money for our train ticket to Vienna. We gave her in exchange some of Annemarie’s clothes for her daughter. We repaid her as soon as I collected some of the commission money due me in Vienna and we have since sent her some gifts. She was a wonderful woman.

We took a taxi from the station to the house of a friend of ours who had almost given up hope of ever seeing us again. We sent telegrams to friends and relatives in Budapest: “Annemarie

born safely. Parents and daughter are well.” It had been a month since we left. They must have thought we were dead.

Our friend in Vienna was too poor to care for us so we lived for a few days in an International Refugee Organization camp until my money from unpaid commissions was forwarded. The camp was situated in some school buildings and was dreadfully crowded—twenty people lived and slept in one room. It was clean, however. The food was sufficient and the United States administrators insisted that everyone have a hot shower once a day.

When a few hundred dollars arrived we took a room and I threw my energy into getting forged papers so we could go to Paris where the company whose Hungarian agent I had been bad an office and a job waiting for me. Obtaining forged papers is a major occupation in Vienna, where refugee lawyers with contacts among the poorer paid officials in embassies could get you anything from a ration book to a passport. Ironically, we now needed Hungarian passports, which cost us seventy dollars apiece in bribes. With these passports we applied for a visitor’s visa to France and were given one through proper channels only when we were able to prove we wouldn’t be stopping in the country. To prove this we also took out a Dutch visa and gave Amsterdam as our destination. Then we needed a forged exit visa from Austria, which cost us fifty dollars in bribes. During this period we were greatly affected by the tension in Vienna. The movie The Third Man captured this feeling perfectly and it was a great favorite in Vienna. We also have some pictures that capture it. Judith took Annemarie to a photographer’s and the pictures showed a beautiful child with the strained expression of a very old and frightened woman.

To escape the agony of too much scrutiny of our forged papers we took an airplane from Vienna to Paris

and arrived in bright sunshine on March fourth. We threw away our Hungarian passport as soon as we arrived and declared ourselves to be refugees. This ensured that we would not be sent back to Hungary. A short time later I was granted a permit to apply for a job and my company took me back. I was doing the same job in the same way, except that now 1 spoke French. Judith began to have the periods of depression which I mentioned before and this helped us decide to get right away from Europe to a newer, younger country. When my

firm announced it was opening a new branch in Toronto 1 was delighted to go.

We have been here two and a half years and in another two and a half years we will be citizens of this fine country. Because we are sending money to friends in Budapest and have so many things to buy, Judith has a job too and has risen to be assistant manager of an international forwarding company where she can use her several languages. Last year Annemarie went to a private school, Havergal. This year it is impossible because we are helping

Judith’s elderly mother, who has been allowed to leave Hungary because she is old, and her sister from England. Our library now is very small, but it contains a few histories of art. We have some reproductions on our walls, from da Vinci’s head of Christ to some flowers by Gauguin. We have the china head of a beautiful Egyptian queen on our shelves next to a totem pole. Our tastes are catholic.

Everyone asks us if we like Canada and we are always surprised. Of course we like it—this is a place of freedom and peace.