Tuesday, January 1, 1957 (New Year's Day)
Morning: After paying the guide for a successful crossing, we are led to a barn in some baron's estate where we finally get some much needed rest. I remember waking hours later on a bed of hay, soaking wet, with a cow looking me straight in the eye! Outside, adults are talking in various foreign languages which means nothing to me. Presently, the children are taken by bus to a Red Cross station in Andau, a few miles from the border. There, we are examined, fed and clothed. I eat my first banana that day! I had always imagined bananas to be round, like oranges (which I once saw someone eat); I never expected them to be shaped like a . . . well, like a banana! In Hungary, imported food is not within the reach of ordinary people and consequently I had never seen a banana before..
Afternoon/Evening: The adults rejoin us in Andau and we are off to a refugee processing center in Eisenstadt. Click here to view Escape Map. This place is pretty horrible; hot, crowded and noisy. We hunker down for the night, but my mother and Ani are pretty anxious to head for the bright lights of the big city - Vienna. Maybe tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 2, 1957
We complete the formalities of obtaining political asylum. I learn about the I.C.E.M., but do not know what it stands for until about 11th. grade! (It stands for Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration, an agency of the United Nations. Europeans have been displaced so frequently from their homelands in the two world wars that there is an acute need for this agency.)
My mother latches on to some administrator and finally finagles some money and train tickets to Vienna. We are on our way, the three of us, traveling almost first class. After the last couple of nights, any vehicle with seats is first class. We arrive in Vienna as night falls. The city lights are awesome! Budapest was dark and dingy compared to this. Under Communism, there is never enough of anything, including electricity, which has to be conserved at all cost. Here, in the West, there is electricity to burn!
We are now searching for a hotel to spend the night, but two irksome problems crop up. First, there is not a room to be had for any money, and, second, we have no money. Hungarian currency has no value here. Even if there had been a room, we would not have been able to pay for it!
As the evening wears on, we happen upon an ex-Hungarian man living in Vienna who takes pity on us. He hires a taxi and takes us to some of the outlying areas in search of a room, but, even with his Austrian currency, to no avail. Finally, around midnight, the driver suggests the jail. What do we have to lose? We are taken to the Police station where we are duly fingerprinted and locked up for the night.
Thursday, January 3 through the end of January, 1957
We are awakened at the crack of dawn with a pot of lukewarm coffee passed through a small door in the wall of the cell. Shortly thereafter, we are set free into the icy January dawn.
During the month of January, we drift around Vienna looking for temporary shelter. Our religious diversity comes in handy; my mother and I are Jewish, while Ani is Catholic. Some nights we are put up in Jewish shelters, while others we spend in Catholic churches. Finally, a convent takes us in where there is a semblance of a routine life, and we gladly settle in. We get three good meals a day and air mattresses for the night. There is even a school set up for the refugee kids where we learn German and English, not to mention stay out of mischief. In the meantime, my mother applies for immigration to Canada, while Ani applies to Australia.
Our life in Vienna is quite pleasant, the circumstances notwithstanding. My mother's uncle from New York sends us a $5.00 bill every week or two, wrapped in nylon stockings. We frequent the cafés, parks and public baths. This is definitely where I acquire a taste for all that rich, creamy pastry! I also love to ride the steam train through the Prater, the huge park on the shore of the Danube. As a special treat we would sometimes ride the Riesenrad - Vienna's landmark giant Ferris wheel, which is also in the Prater and visible from every corner of the city.
Every few days we take the Stadtbahn - the elevated railway - to the Dianabad - a stately old public bath house where we can bathe in luxury. The building is like a hotel, but the room you rent is, quite literally, a bathroom! An attendant starts the water in an old cast iron tub, brings soap and towels, and leaves. I would wait outside for my mother to finish her bath and, when the door finally cracks open, I slip inside for mine.
This bath house also boasts a unique technological wonder - one that I have not seen anywhere else, to this day. It has a continuously moving elevator. Cars are coupled together like the steps of an escalator; they move up and down, in adjacent shafts, slowly but without stopping. There are no doors, just an opening in the wall; you step in and out as the cars pass by. Lawyers today would have a feeding frenzy over this! I never did find out what happens if you fail to get off at the last floor!
We also soak up the rich culture of the city. We marvel at the grand Ring boulevards which encircle the inner city, with the magnificent Opera, the Hofburg Palace, St. Stephen's Cathedral, the National Library, the Spanish Riding Academy . . . at every bend another famous structure looms into view. I learn a lot during these sojourns, but most of all, I vividly remember the poor architect of the opera house. He allegedly committed suicide because he built the structure at street level instead of elevated, as in other cities.
On special occasions, we would visit the Schönbrunn palace, which is considered the Versailles of the East, located in the outskirts of the city.
Alas, our good life in Vienna is short lived. One day, a new arrival at the convent who had known my mother in Hungary felt it her duty to inform the nuns that we are Jews and, in short order, we are homeless again. Fortunately, a Jewish "láger" just opened in Korneuburg, about 30 miles upriver from Vienna, and we are welcome to stay there as long as we need.