- Posted August 24, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in the early 1980s: Style and politics
Based on my mother’s reassuring promise, her supervisor signed all the official documents needed to depart and we were granted to leave the country. Unfortunately, this trip was not as promising as I was made to believe! Soon I found out that my life will never be the same and the only reminder of my happy childhood was what I packed in my suitcase.
My family was issued passports and yet some of us had no intentions of ever returning home.
On August 20th, 1987 my parents took me for a trip of a lifetime. We were on our way for a family vacation to Austria. I remember waiving Good-Bye to my dear uncle, shouting, “We will be back! See you soon!” As his face faded away, we closed the window and I chose the seat next to my mother. Everyone was so quiet with tears in their eyes. Deep down in my conscious I knew that something was wrong. However, I began daydreaming as the beautiful scenery passed me by like flying arrows; without warning I was hypnotized unconscious. No sooner that I became unaware of my surroundings, I was woken up. We arrived to Austria, to Vienna’s train station. We gathered our suitcases and flagged down a taxi, which drove us to the condominium my mother had rented out. When we arrived to our destination a Hungarian couple who moved to Austria around 1956 greeted us. Their smiles were so assuring, never once would I question their genuineness. They treated us as if we had known each other all of our lives. She allowed us to settle in as if we would stay there throughout our vacation. I was so delighted to be in such astonishing surroundings, not knowing that my opinion would soon change, as the big secret was finally revealed.
We are not allowed to return home again! One stab in the heart after another, as each word left the tip of their tongues. As my silent cry became apparent, everyone began to join in with their sobbing. Meanwhile, the tears poured into my mouth disturbing my taste buds with misery.
Why did we have to do this? What are we running from? So many unanswered questions were piling up in my mind. I was not sure if I had the desire to know the reason behind it at all. Yet, I had nowhere to hide from it! Why would we leave our beautiful three bedroom condominium? My father’s position was a costumer coordinator and a part time actor at the Jozsef Varosi Theater and Mother was one of the first women to work on a computer at IBM; We had everything! I went to the best Hungarian (Prater) music school, my parents traveled frequently. Our family was very well off. Especially for being mixed with Gypsies! I could not figure it out, but it was not the time to ask we were already in the Taxi on our way to the center of Hell! After about 30 minutes of travel, my fascination with Austria soon came to an end when the taxi driver suddenly pulled off the road and parked in front of the enormous iron gates of Traiskirhen. Guards patrolled the area with German-shepherds, I prayed so hard for God to make it all stop! Mother got all of our passports ready in hand and with hesitation we finally got out of the Taxi. As we were getting our suitcases, a Hungarian man approached us. He told us that they had arrived a few minutes earlier, and his wife who speaks German is at the gate talking to the guards. At first, they did not want to let us enter and with some persuasion unknown to me, they granted our entrance. They told us to get our most valuable items out and hold on to it and leave the rest. We took out our jewelry, official papers, money and some clothes. Our toys had to stay behind.
Guards escorted us all to an office, where they took each families information and where my parents had to convince the authorities that we would rather stay in Austria, but soon they informed us that this was impossible. The rules clearly stated that, to be considered being sponsored by another country everyone had to register. They gave a list of choices who were offering asylum at the time. America, Canada, and Australia were the generous ones. We put down Australia as our first choice, Canada was then the second and America was marked as our third. After we all finished, it sunk in that we were now refugees and there was no way of turning back.
Chaperoned by the guards to the end of the line that led us to misery lane, behind the gates of hell, we sat ten hours as we waited to be quarantined for 10 days. We had to sit in one place for hours without bathroom, water, or food. There were three of us kids, my brother Andy age 2, another girl around my age, and myself. We were asking our parents for water, food and like any other children we had to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, we were unable to move until a guard was available, so we sat there till they remembered us. Finally a guard came and guided us to a room with a toilet, sink and bunk beds; he locked us in for 10 days. The day came when they let us out. We were pointed to stand in line outside in the yard. Now imagine a lunch line that was never ending, we moved an inch in an hour. This line was not an ordinary line, it was filled with courageous individuals from all over the world; I felt lost from all the foreign languages and faces. The closer we got to the door my parents’ hands began shaking. That point I knew that my parents were just as frighten as I was. Than the moment we dreaded has arrived. The nightmare became a reality. The guards searched us head to toe and asked my father the question I was so eager to know! “Why would you leave your country? Why would you leave your home?” I stood there quiet, alert and courteous! Yet my brain was shouting out - “Tell them father! Tell me the reason why!” Finally, the words were spoken. “My country no longer belongs to me. I have a warrant out for my arrest, because I refused to join the communist party! I want freedom for my family!” They signaled us to proceed. They let us pass through their steel doors! As we walked to the building that was assigned to us, everything became clear to me! The new uniforms at school, the teachers making us learn Russian, the soldiers occupying the streets, finally began to make sense. My parents wanted freedom and a future for my brother and I. They were rescuing us.
I have never seen a prison, but I could imagine that this was it. People were everywhere staring at us with blank looks on their faces. Children were not allowed to play. Every child sat still like puppets that were left on the shelves. When we found our room, our mouths dropped open. We just stood still in the door way on sure if we should enter. There were hundreds of bunk beds just like in the military, one thin blanket was on each bed and most of them were occupied. We found just enough beds for all of us next to the door. At least we were all together. As we remained still trying to take in our new surroundings and situation, some Hungarians who arrived a few days prior approached us. We were so grateful to find new friends who were able to tell us the rules of this dreadful place! The main rule was simple - Do not leave your belongings and never separate. I held on to my mother’s hands like glue, but nature was determent to separate us. Eventually we I had to use the bathroom there was no avoiding it. So father and another man accompanied us to the bathroom. They had to stand guard because there were no doors hanging where there should have been. The sink had 3 spigots and looked similar to a horse-trough filled with spoiled food and plugged with hair. There were only four showers for thousands of people, a filthy mess without doors or curtains. To take a shower was a family and trusted friend’s event. The men stayed alert in front of the entrance as my mother held up a blanket while I showered in ice cold water. It was such an embracing and traumatizing task that to this day I have issues with someone coming in the bathroom while I take a shower.
Several months passed by living like caged animals. We were not allowed to leave or contact anyone outside of the camp. Food was scarce and foul, the ingredients included: cat fur, and mashed potatoes. According to some people some days we had good food that I do not recall. Most of the time hid while eating bread and water along with the left over salami my mother snuck in. Every day was the same old routine, get up stand in line either for the bathroom or for food. People began to lose self respect. Some Slovak couple had lost their shame, not caring about who watched them during their what should have been privet moments. I was only nine years old and had no idea at the time that this man was not hurting his wife. Finally my father and a few others confronted them about their sinful behavior in front of children. That was that! They were kicked out of the room. Although there were kids my age, my spirit limited me to play with them each day. Some days were bearable and others intolerable. Perhaps if the atmosphere would have allowed me to cope better with our situation, we could have developed a lifelong friendship and time may have passed by faster. But it seemed like eternity behind these stone walls and Christmas was not coming that year! So what month or date it was did not matter to me by this point, only thing that I do recall is that I had to stand tiptoe to see out of the barricaded window to catch a glimpse of the astounding rainbow speckled sky. Everyone was cheerful, singing, playing cards for a short time we all forgotten where we were. It may have been New Years Eve.
Finally the day we have been eagerly waiting for had arrived; we were going to be transferred out of Traiskirhen the next day. We were filled with joy. Prior to the transfer the authorities placed us in a private room downstairs. Given that it was later in the afternoon when all of our paperwork was finalized, we had to stay overnight in the freezing room without a heater or blankets! My poor mom felt guilty because my brother and I were shivering, but I understood that because we left during the summer months my parents did not pack any winter clothes. Winter gear would have been extremely suspicious at the border and no one imagined that we will be stuck in this refugee camp as long as we did. Therefore, I did not blame my parents instead we wore all of our clothes even though they did not do much justice.
We ended up being transferred two more times within a year! The first place was not a happy one, I remember many bit and pieces like working on a field picking strawberries to make some money, the local police raiding our room and taking everything we owned, my father getting in fight to protect me because some men inappropriately touched me and I also remember being beaten up by local kids. The second town was Sandl, it was a nicer place and people were compassionate. However, I do recall how proud some of their people were of their Nazi heritage and the night when a dozen members came to our place in their white hooded outfits burning a cross in the front yard while yelling for us to come out; It was a bit traumatizing for all of us.
However, my saddest memory that replays over and over in my mind is of people who slept on the cold floor in the refugee camp. Their children were naked and instead of diapers they were wearing shopping bags. I remember throwing a shirt down to a kid when my mom was not looking. During this time the world was not as beautiful as I read in my picture books. I felt pity for them like words cannot explain, yet because I come from mixed blood it was easy to separate myself from the people who were unworthy to sleep on a bed like the rest of us refugees. The Europeans named these people “Gypsies”, assuming that their origin came from Egypt in the beginning of the 11th century! They are roaming souls that only God cares for! To this day the origins and heritage of gypsies are misunderstood! According to their legends they migrated from India in 1000BC. There are several gypsy tribes; I belong to the Roma nation. There are many groups such as the Kalderash, the Machavaya, the Lovari, Churari, Romanichal, Gitanoes, Sinti, Rudari, Manush, Boyash, Ungaritza, Luri, Bashaldé, Romungro, and the Xoraxai. From integrating with the Europeans, you may never able to distinguish a gypsy from a European. Their skin comes in all shades, but their language remains ancient Punjabi and Hindi although their dialect varies. Their way of life is like no other, yet they are made in the image of God, who deserve as much respect as any other nation on this earth. Many gypsies broke away from their tribe to maintain a European lifestyle and live as respected members among their communities, such as my family did. They became doctors, nurses, professors, teacher, conductors, engineers, artist, and like me the first to go to college to become a psychologist and a children's book author. Therefore, now that I think back, when someone yelled dirty gypsies to those kids in the refugee camp I felt as if they were pointing their fingers at me. I was always picked on at school, beaten up for being a slightly darker shade and yet if I tell that to an African-American they look at me in disbelief.
Unfortunately, the prejudice and racism I witnessed all my life is confirmed to exist all over the world. Although, in 1989 we arrived in the land of the free, (Vermillion, SD, USA) my parents asked me to never let anyone know we are mixed with Gypsy. “If someone asked about it, we shall deny it! Hide from the consequences that may follow, blend in as much as we can.” What made no sense while growing up is why then was I reminded behind closed doors of who we are? Yet in public I was to pass for a white girl with my olive skin! I wasn’t fooling anyone and because of it I never felt comfortable in my own skin; I had no clue where I belonged!
Why would society force us to deny what God had made us? It took me over 20 years to realize why my parents were so scared to share our ethnicity with others; it began with my Grandmother Olga’s story, from the time when she was forced on the train to Auschwitz. During this era every nation was against us, we were never going to be equal. But how can I be so weak to allow this madness to continue today and dismiss my own right to fight for equality especially now that I’m living in the land of the free? Am I to say I am nothing like my grandmother, a woman who survived a devastating ordeal with her courage? Am I supposed to deny my mother’s accomplishments of becoming one of the first women to work on a computer at IBM in Budapest? Am I to lie to myself that I am nothing like the Gypsies? Would an Asian woman ever say she is not Asian? Would an African woman say she is white? I THINK NOT! What kind of mother would I be to my daughters if I would keep them from their own legacy? I now know that maybe because I am mixed I will receive a better treatment from society, but I also know that I will never be excluded from the negative view some people have against gypsies. However, I do not allow my ethnicity to refine me and I am proud of the women who gave me a chance to live my life to the fullest. I come from a long line of survivors, we are courageous people who live life with dignity, compassion, and inspiration while making a difference in society no matter what others label us!
Nonetheless, we are human beings and we deserve equality! The assumption that we are all thieves, liars, and ignorant is inhumain!
I ask the rest of the world to take it into consideration that those of us who are living in peace amongst society and consider ourselves part of the nation, not to be labeled as outsiders because of our ethnicity.
God Bless you all!
Timea Csonka Frye