Return from West Germany

That evening they mesmerized me with more stories about their trip. Kent cigarette packages worked well with border inspectors without our gifts confiscated. Mama’s German lessons paid off so much so that Tati commended her and atoned her for having alleged that she squandered time drinking Turkish coffee.

I was captured in a fairy tale with autobahn thoroughfares and fast cars, stores with shelves overloaded with a myriad of products. Instead of one government-issue of an item, a selection? Instead of hoping to find an item, a choice?

“I couldn’t believe it,” Tati said.

Mama nodded, “I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen everything with my own eyes.”

On their first trip outside Romania and the Eastern Bloc, twelve hundred miles away, they experienced freedom. They saw and heard, felt and tasted a lifestyle vastly so different that their senses awakened – a people living life without fear, in comfort and abundance.

As I listened, I wished to see this world with my own eyes.

She continued, “The rumors are nothing. The differences are incomprehensible. Our lives are so repressed, so far beneath their standard of life. I must admit that Gisi’s and Rudi’s urging us to remain in West Germany was tempting.”

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The Moment Lurked

In the fall of 1975, I joined my new second grade class with a new teacher. German studies started the first week of classes. Overshadowing the new beginning was the one major school event for all second graders – the initiation into the communist party as a Pioneer. The moment lurked, inescapable. When that day came, I forced out the obligatory words. The only thing within my power was to keep to myself.

Live Free

In my mind rang the hushed words that people in the Occident lived free.

Our government had rendered ordinary citizens entirely dependent, as though undeserving beggars, whose livelihood and well-being hung on the whims of mighty officials who had it made and whose purpose in life was to exercise power to gain more power over people.

Why didn’t the government  let people who wanted to go away to live free go, if that’s what they wanted? If they wanted to leave Romania to live elsewhere, why shoot them or torture them instead of letting them leave to the Free West – especially since officials shouted how bad the western world is?

And I didn’t know about the God the government declared didn’t exist, but I felt in my heart there had to be much more to life than the ticking of the clock.

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People Have Rights

Excerpt from Chapter 5

Stories about citizens risking death to escape communism circulated widely, said to have run west over heavily guarded fields lined with barbed wire and armed border guards or jumped into the frigid water of the Danube. Many died. Those captured were beaten, tortured, and imprisoned indefinitely. Others drowned in the unforgiving waters of the Danube or shot. Every one had aimed to reach the Free West, a world where it was rumored that “oamenii au drepturi.

I wondered what “people have rights” meant.

I had begun to understand that the communists ran our lives. The government controlled food stores, clothing stores, shoe stores; it controlled what the media reported, how much information and how the information was presented; it decided when two television channels aired and what programs would be broadcasted; it controlled the medical field, hospitals, and the quantity and quality of health care; it decided how much each profession earned; it controlled education and how many openings at each higher education institution; it required every second grade elementary student to join the communist party as a Pioneer; it instituted state atheism and declared it illegal to possess a Bible or Christian literature or to confess faith in God, the consequences of a violation being imprisonment, torture, and personal ruin.

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Dissident…or Dreamer?

“I wasn’t supposed to be on this train. According to communist rules, I shouldn’t have a passport or be attempting to leave the country–not while Mama and Lulu, my ten-year-old sister, were outside Romania. They had left two weeks earlier on a thirty-day visa to West Germany. If at any time before the train crossed the border an official matched our last names, I would be yanked off and locked up in a mental facility as a dissident.”

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Destiny

“He stood motionless, unsmiling, as the train picked up speed and the distance between us grew. The second I lost sight of him an intense loneliness crushed me. I had set out on an irreversible course towards my destiny.”

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No Kiss Good-Bye on HarperCollins’ Authonomy

“The spell of the Occident had held me captive for years. I heard people circulate rumors about this mysterious place in hushed voices, filled with awe. It was this forbidden world beyond the confines of the Eastern Bloc that I wanted to experience for myself. I knew too well the face of oppression. I craved to see the face of freedom. And this longing trumped common sense and fear of the grave consequences of leaving.”

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