Life as Refugees

After all these years it is difficult to remember every little detail of our life in Austria. The waiting and the uncertainty were the two major elements that left a lasting impression in my memory.

There are other things that I remember: the smell of coffee and fresh buns in the mornings when we went into the dining room. I loved the smell of breakfast.

I remember getting up early in the mornings around 5:00 o’clock, when we had appointments in Vienna. Renate was up already making us coffee and sandwiches to take with us. At the beginning we liked going to Vienna, but after the 5th or so trip we dreaded it. We needed to go many times to the Traiskirchen camp to fill out papers. To the doctor’s office in Vienna for medical exams, to the lab for medical tests, to the Canadian Embassy for interviews. The taxi would come for as at 6:00am and drive us to Traiskirchen, or to Vienna, and it would pick us up at a certain hour from there when we finished and drive us back. Usually it was just our family but sometimes there were other families too, who needed to go to Traiskirchen. Then, a stretched Mercedes that looked like a limo would pick us up. We got used to sleepy drivers driving us at high speed.

I remember going on a trip with a borrowed car to Bad Kreutzen, to visit our friends Miorita and Pogo, who defected from Romania also and were housed there. We spent the night at their hotel and the next day we went together on a trip along the Danube River to Linz and from there to Salzburg where Mozart was born. It was in the summer and it was a beautiful trip.

I remember waiting for our turn to use the bathroom, on bath days. Hubert our host over estimated his ability to host so many people for so long and under estimated the costs of housing so many people.

I don’t know the amount of money he received from the camp for each person, probably not enough because, slowly from a friendly host he became our fearful boss. At the beginning we could watch TV at night in the TV room downstairs. One day he locked the room and we could not watch TV anymore. He took away the hot plates from our rooms so we didn’t use extra electricity. He put a stove in the hallway that we could use. Taking turns, of course. The shared bath was open all day at first, then he decided that we use it too often so he locked it. Every Friday morning he would give the key to one family for use. That family passed it to the next after their bath and so on. When a Polish family had the key at the start, they surely passed it to another Polish family until they all finished bathing. We didn’t get the key until late afternoon. When the Hungarians or Romanians got the key first, we were lucky because they passed it to us after their use.

As families left for their country of destination, Hubert, didn’t accept new families and started renovating the empty rooms. By the end of the summer he had a few families that he transferred to another gasthaus on the street. At one time we were the last family living there. There was a construction crew working in the attic, other then that we had the whole place to ourselves. The dining room was still functional and everybody ate there. At the end we too moved to the other gasthaus just for a couple of weeks until our departure.

I remember going to a restaurant near the gasthaus to order crépes, palatschinken in German. At Hubert they didn’t make them. They were Krisztina’s favourite so once a week we went there to buy them. After a while when the owner of the restaurant saw us coming he would call out: palatschinken madchen! ( little crepes or pancake girl).

I remember what a quiet and patient little girl Krisztina was. We took her with us, away from home and away from people she knew, on a long journey. By the time she turned four years old, she had traveled by trains, buses, automobiles and airplanes. She experienced different cultures and heard different languages by traveling through four countries. Sometimes we had to wake her up at early hours on cold winter mornings. Sometimes we had to walk with her long distances. When she got tired, Arpad sat her on his shoulders and carried her. She had to eat strange food and sleep in unfamiliar beds. Still, she did not complain. She had her soother that she turned to when she was tired or sleepy or sad. When we lost her doll, she cried but her soother calmed her down.

When she turned four years old we thought it was time to wean her off the soother so it won’t affect her teeth. Laci pretended to throw it out the window and we never found it.

It was another loss that she encountered. Even bigger than losing the doll. Recently she told me that she doesn’t remember losing the doll but, she remembers Laci, throwing away her soother.

Looking back, I realize what a blessing it was to have such an agreeable and accepting child that she was on our difficult journey.

I remember Krisztina’s friend Damian. He was a little boy about Krisztina’s age, from Poland who lived in one of the rooms with his parents, waiting to go to the US. We took him on our hikes, many times, and invited him to play with Krisztina, so she could spend time with children. Since we left home she was surrounded by adults all day long.

The reason I am expressing myself in plural in these stories, is because from the time we left Romania, until we arrived to Canada, we did everything together. We spent all the time together, except for the time Arpad worked. Then it was Krisztina and I.

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