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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 9 page 13


They escorted us to a nearby village where many other refugees were gathered. It was a refugee camp. At the time I had no idea that such a thing existed. I would have to guess that maybe 200 Hungarians were gathered around several tables, and food and kindness from our Austrian hosts was in evidence everywhere. My thoughts were pretty simple: I was in a new, free world. I knew no one. I had a strong sense of belonging to my family, and I already missed them. I was alone, lonesome, and completely uncertain of the future. Yet I felt a certain confidence even though I was only 18. By my side, at the table, where food and wine was being served, was a lovely Hungarian gal of about 20. She was just like me — alone, lonesome, but happy to be free.

It did not take long for me to engage her in conversation; we were all anxious to share our stories. As the night went on, I touched her to show some affection, and our mutual physical needs just naturally took over. Slowly I slid my hands up her thigh. How great it was to be eighteen and free! She looked me in the eye — and that look encouraged me to go farther up.

I cannot really recall much more of that evening. It was delightful, enthralling, exciting, and, sorry to say, it did not come to the ending that the reader may have imagined. We were all exhausted, and our hosts escorted us to a school gymnasium where we fell asleep. The gymnasium was to be our home for the next few days.

The Red Cross came to distribute little kits which contained toothbrushes, some toothpaste, shaving equipment for the guys, soap, and a five-dollar bill. I met up with the gal from the night before and professed to her my eternal love. I hate to admit it, but I did that rather often in my young days. Together we went to the nearby hospital, where refugees not as lucky as ourselves were placed. We went around the different rooms, comforting those who were hurt, and in the process we talked about our future and made promises of staying attached to each other. For me, falling in love was quite easy. Give me a reasonably good-looking girl with some intelligence and a warm hug and even warmer thighs, and I was in love! But no matter how hard I try, I cannot for the life of me remember her name.

On November 30 we moved to a more central camp near Graz where I was able to meet up with relatives who welcomed me into their home. I took a train to Vienna, got to the Canadian embassy and received tickets and the right of passage to Canada. Soon I was on another train, this time bound for Le Havre. This train too was loaded with Hungarian refugees, on their way to board a boat to Canada. It was a Greek ship by the name of Columbia.

The Atlantic crossing took nine days and it was pure hell all the way. The seas were rough; the boat was cramped, with a lot of us sick. However it did end with the happy sight of a town in the New World of Canada. We arrived at Saint John, New Brunswick, on Christmas Day, 1956.

This selection is excerpted from Tom Krieser's autobiography, Escape to be Free in Pursuit of Luck.