THIS IS A REMARKABLE DAY OF COURAGE, FREEDOM AND AN AMAZING JOURNEY….
Today, 8/17/19, marks exactly 50 years since my family and I escaped our home country, the Czech Republic, one year after the communist invasion, the Prague Spring of 1968.
It was August, 17,1969 when we crossed the border into Austria, never to look back, not knowing if we would ever return, not knowing where this journey would take us, not even speaking the language, with just a few of suitcases pretending to go on vacation. We were 4 adults and 2 kids, my parents, my brother and I, my uncle and my grandmother. Three days later, on August 21st, they closed the borders. No one was allowed to leave for a while. A year later, once they re-opened the borders, they didn’t allow for whole families to leave at the same time. Parents couldn’t take their kids, for example, to insure that they would return.
Once in Austria, apparently we had enough money to rent a hotel room for the 6 of us with little more than nothing left over for food. My grandmother got to share a big bowl of soup with us kids each day and the rest of the adults had one hotdog and one role to split among themselves. My folks didn’t get to eat for an entire week until they found a job and were able to get an advance on their pay.
Our very first day in Austria I recall laying down on top of one of our suitcases in a stairwell of an apartment building. The people who had sent us an invitation to visit, necessary for us to get out, had gone on vacation themselves and weren’t home when we arrived. That night we hid in the basement of their apartment complex, trying to sleep on our suitcases, hoping nobody would find us hiding out in their basement, as we didn’t know where else to go. It actually made for quite the sleepless night worrying that someone might find us.
Being on foot, my parents walked 4 hours one way to get to the immigration office so that we could insure our immigration to South Africa. No other country was taking people at the time. The wait for the United States was two years back then.
From our first paycheck my parents purchased army cots to sleep on, but they only had enough money for 5 cots, although there was 6 of us. So, my uncle went to work night shift, so he could sleep during the day, while the rest of my family slept at night.
On October 6th, 1969 we immigrated to South Africa, another amazing journey!
What a journey! The price we pay for freedom! And the courage it takes!
My admiration goes to my parents for their absolutely amazing courage!!!
From the 6 people who wandered out together, today there remains only 4 of us left. My grandmother and my dad have passed away.
My mom is still with us, her brother (my uncle), and my brother, all of whom live in Germany at present. I live here in the US. I continued to wander, long after my family settled… a story for another day.