|Written by Administrator|
|Monday, 22 August 2011 19:50|
The green Fiat came to a stop. An old Russian army barrack in the middle of Austria was our first sign of freedom. It was raining and it was dark. I watched my father read a sign taped to the dilapidated doors, Fluchtlingslager (Refugee Camp). This was home, until a temporary home was found.
I remember the army bunk bed in the middle of the massive gymnasium that was assigned to our family of four. The blankets were wool and so rough to the touch. The steel canisters for dinner were too cold to hold for a five-year-old. There was no music or artwork, just hundreds of hopeful people escaping communism. Standing in line, behind hundreds of others, we waited for bland potato soup to be deposited into our army canisters. I was just five but I remember the words I asked my mother on our first night at the refugee camp. "Mama? You promised our new life had no more lines."
Families were given first priority and sent to the front of the administration line. Documents and passports were double and triple checked. The Austrian government stamped REFUGEE across our paperwork and we waited for the first opening in temporary housing (the equivalent of a foster home) somewhere, anywhere, in Austria.
This is how our family of four found ourselves in Ebbs, Austria. Living above a tavern in one room with two single beds.
There were three other families from Poland occupying the bedrooms around us. We had one common room where we gathered to watch television and socialize every evening. Six adults and six children shared the only bathroom. And life was grand through the eyes of a five-year-old girl. Instant girlfriends!
While our parents rushed to Vienna each month to secure Visas and find sponsors in far away countries, we girls laughed for seven long months like a bunch of sorority sisters unaware of our parents' dreams for us.
Terrible things happened in between. Dreams were tested. Our fathers (all college educated engineers) spent days scraping metals in dumpsters for money, always came home discouraged. Throughout it all we, as children, were welcomed by the tavern keeper that treated us like extended family. She was a grandmother to us. We enjoyed Austrian preschool as the occasional visitors and happily accepted donated toys the tavern keeper collected.
For nearly one year we all patiently waited to be assigned to a country. America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada were accepting refugees in the early 80's from communism. Our fathers worked jobs they never would have imagined, to save enough money for the new world. But it was never enough to fly a family across an ocean to freedom. We were one of the first families to be accepted by Catholic Relief Services, who sponsored our flight to Chicago. We said good-bye to our beloved friends and boarded the plane, uncertain but hopeful for life in America.
To be continued....
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 August 2011 09:56|