Tuesday, June 19, 2012

#19 ~ July 1975 ~ Saying goodbye to Vienna

We stayed in Vienna a little over 2 weeks. Felix got to practice his German. He was very proud that he could get around by asking people for directions and  help. We lived in a small hotel/pension owned by Bettina. Since we had about 10 families living there, it was very difficult to cook something for us, especially for Masha. There was only one kitchen with one stove and the gas was turned on very low. I guess it was done to save money. It took about 4 hours to make a simple soup or hot cereal. We did not have enough allowance to eat in the cafe or restaurant and we were determine to to use our $600.00. Some families did eat out all the time. And I noticed that women had their jewelry. When I asked (oh, how naive I was!) how did they manage to get the gold rings and necklaces through the custom, they simply said:" You need to know who to bribe..." Well, we did not have enough money to do that. But we did not complain. We were safe, we were together and we had hope, trust and anticipation of something wonderful ahead.
Representatives from HIAS held several meetings where they explained what to expect, what to do and what to avoid. They asked us not to talk to anyone, stay close to the hotel and be ready for a long train journey to Rome.
I loved Vienna. Gorgeous parks, lovely gardens, charming theaters, palaces, stores and beautiful people. But still my favorite place was the grocery store. I could walk around the store for hours, explore the colorful packages, bottles and cans. One item fascinated me the most: it was a mascara. First, it came in different colors. Wow!!! And it had a small brush, that was tucked away inside the tube. And it smelled so good. Mascara that we used to have was a small box, the one you had to spit in and then apply to your lashes with a tiny brush. Gross and nasty, right?!  I wanted to buy it so bad, but everyone told me to wait. Things are going to be much cheaper and better in Italy. So I was patient.
One of the Palaces in Vienna.

On the night before our departure from Vienna, we packed all our belongings, prepared small packages with food and drinks. A small bus took us to the train station very early in the morning. Thankfully we did not have many bags, so we boarded the train without any problems. But there were so many people, and most of them had a lot of luggage. Our small compartment was very crowded. There were shouts and screams, people shoving each other, kicking, fighting. It was a nightmare! Finally, when everyone was on board, and the train moved, people started to calm down and settle. It was still crowded and very hot and stuffy. I remembered when my Mom told me how they had to evacuate from Nazis during the World War II and I felt better. At least we were not transported like animals...
In the middle of our trip, last car caught on fire and everyone had to be moved to the front. So our crowded compartment got even more crammed. Some people had to sit on the floor. Someone started singing. It was such a familiar and bittersweet song, that everyone joined in. We had a chance to talk and share our stories.
Soon we ran out of water. When the train stopped somewhere around Yugoslavia, we had people from outside giving us bottles of water through the windows. We could not understand what they were saying, but their kindness was so appreciated. The guards told us that we have to wait. For security reasons, we had to arrive to Rome at night. So we waited, but we were not allowed to go outside. That trip seemed to go on forever!

Finally, late at night we saw the lights of Rome. Everyone started moving, get their things together. But there was no more fighting or screaming. We all sort of bonded, got to know each other. We were so tired, hungry, exhausted and dehydrated. Small buses took one family at a time to a 4-story hotel. And all I remember, how we all fell asleep, finally being able to lie down and stretch out in our own beds.

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