Just Don't Turn Around (Chapter 4, page 1 of 29)

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Chapter 4

Monday 30 July 1984 - Traiskirchen.

Shortly before lunch, we arrived at the refugee camp in the town of Traiskirchen, and unaware of the situation, I entered with our car through the main entrance and stopped in front of a red and white gate. The gatekeeper in a military uniform and with the automatic rifle on his shoulder came up to our car and asked in German through the open window: "What is the purpose of your visit?"

"Political asylum," I said in German.

"You can not go inside with your car; you have to park in the street," said the gatekeeper.

I backed up the car and parked in the street. From the outside the camp looked like a military base, and as I learned later, once upon a time this was a military base. Following Austria's declared neutrality, the government reduced the size of its army and since then the building has been utilized for refugee accommodations. And there used to be enough of them because Austria's neighbors, Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia, were both Communist countries. Communism in just those two countries alone produced well over ten thousand refugees each year.

We entered the camp, and at a small window by the main entrance, we registered ourselves as refugees who sought political asylum. They took fingerprints of all of us and immediately afterwards one of the armed guards escorted us away to the third floor of the main building where he passed us on to another guard, and when we entered the compound, they locked the door behind us.

The guard brought us to the office door where they signed us in and he returned to the locked door where he stood with the automatic rifle at his chest.

After signing in, each of us received a blanket, pillow, aluminum army gear set of dishes, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. They sent us to room number 73, which was a huge room with bunk beds. In this room there were about eighty people, families like us, pairs or even people who were alone. We chose two bunk beds next to each other and put the things we had just received on one of them. I looked around and heard people speaking Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian. The room was filled about halfway and new people were coming in every few minutes. I sat down on the bed where Nora sat in the middle of the bed, Katarina on one side of her, Peter on the other side and in front of them was the pile with blankets, pillows, dishes and other things. Nora looked very sad, her big brown eyes fixed absent-mindedly towards infinity. She did not cry, but her eyes were filled with tears. I hugged her and said: "Right now we have just hit the very bottom of human society. We are at the bottom and it is impossible to go any lower because we are in the refugee camp. From here we are going up and it is up to us how fast we dig ourselves out from here."

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