Spare me. You didn’t really ‘climb every mountain,’ did you?
Well. we pretty much said, “So long, fair well, aufwiedersehen,” and ciao! Only you spell ciao “eao” in Czech.
Anyway, let’s do the short version. In 1982 I (Jiri Knedlik being of stubborn mind) refused to join the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Then the secret police pressured me to spy on “dangerous” pro-democracy activists who occasionally ate at the Karlovy Vary restaurant in which I worked. Some of those “subversives” were associated with Vaclav Havel’s “Charter 77″. [Havel became the 1 St president Of today's Czech Republic.] Anyway, I didn’t collaborate with the police.
Thus began a campaign of harassment. My wife and I realized we’d better leave the country or one if not both of us would soon be imprisoned like others we knew who’d failed to knuckle under.
We applied for visas to Yugoslavia through which we thought we could escape to the West. Of course we were refused. Then our 6-year-old son developed a respiratory illness enabling us to persuade a doctor that he and his 5- year-old sister needed to convalesce on the Yugoslav sea-coast. With the doctor’s help we convinced a bureaucrat to issue the necessary tourist visas allowing us all out of Czechoslovakia. But before finalizing our escape plan, a member of the secret police (whom we knew casually) called warning I’d be arrested forthwith. The tip came in two ominous words, “Go away.” He hung up.
This valuable alert and our half-finished preparations enabled us to flee to Hungary and from there into then-Yugoslavia. We intend to cross the Yugoslav-Austrian border as day tourists with Western friends. [We were very lucky to know some Austrians] Indeed, we got half way through the checkpoint gates when, at the last minute, a couple suspicious guards challenged us. We were sent back with a harsh warning we’d be arrested next time we tried crossing illegally. After that crushing disappointment our only hope was to find a place where we could hike over the mountains.
We started climbing at 9am the next day, reaching the top of the first peak at 6pm. This hike encompassed not only a gain of over one mile in elevation but involved towing a 5 and ill 6 year old. From the top we followed a crest trail paralleling the border. It was along this ridge that we spotted a man following us. We tried hurrying the children to outdistance him when suddenly a Yugoslav Border Guard jumped from behind a rock. He must have figured I’d retell this story some day, as he thrust a machine gun against my forehead. Nice dramatic touch, though that wasn’t what I was feeling at the time.
We did what anyone would do, we liedrr-bigtime! “We’re hiking to the trekker’s cabin shown on this map.” (Not that we were dressed for hiking, of course.) Frankly, we’re sure the sentry knew the truth. We were just fortunate that it was late Sunday evening, the soldier was alone, probably a bit lazy, and not eager to begin a lot of paperwork arresting us. Whatever combination of reasons… he let us go!
About three minutes after leaving the gunman we heard him arguing with the man who’d been tracking us. We were much too afraid to stop or look back, so we pushed the children all the faster through knee deep snow. Not long thereafter (though psychologically what was very long thereafter), we crossed the border into free Austria. Like I said, someone knew I’d be recounting this one day. As we came out from behind the eastern side of the escarpment we’d followed, we looked out into a stunning green valley complete with setting sun on the horizon. It’s a tear evoking memory for me to this day.
But we still had 20 kilometers to hike that night. And beautiful as the scene was, we’d chosen very dangerous terrain to follow downhill. Misadventure heaped upon crisis when we lost the map. Even inside Austria we barely avoided capture by yet more military scouts who might well have sent us back as illegal aliens.
How we gained asylum and were resettled in the United States is interesting, though thankfully less dramatic. Enough with the web text. But I must recall our first, small, Sacramento apartment on Watt Avenue. There was an orange tree outside the window. Imagine, oranges… and palm trees! Though we escaped with very little, we felt rich from the moment we entered the Golden State’s City of Trees.
We were able to secret a few possessions across the border via our Austrian friends who were part of the original escape plan. However, our home and all of its contents were forfeited.
The above brief of the Knedlik family’s escape from communism is retold by Allen Chamberlin, Mr. Knedlik’s “Creative Assistant”. If you wish to reproduce any portion of this site’s texts, please consult the author first. (He is relatively easy to persuade if he knows you give him due credit.) All copywrite claims apply to this and all other webpage texts at this site.