George and I had no time in Vienna for enjoying tours of the grandly styled city of Mozart and Strauss. I needed to contact my longtime friend, Siegmund, who headed a gospel and literature mission to communist nations. Unfortunately, I had only the number of his post office box and not his home address. We left our hotel near the train station and walked across town and to the post office where Siegmund picked up his mail. We trudged into the post office, only to be confronted by a suspicious clerk who refused to give out Siegmund's home address. So I wrote a brief word and left it in his box.
George and I returned to the hotel to wait for Siegmund to contact us there. Several days passed with no sign of my friend. I heard God tell me to go to the refugee camp outside Vienna. I was about to go, but George had another idea. The camps in Germany were so much better than Austrian camps, he kept insisting. He also said that he had friends and contacts in Germany who would surely help us in our plans. I listened to George and, against my better judgment, turned toward Germany.
We took a train to Salzburg on the border of West Germany. George believed it was a simple matter to hop over the border on foot, waltz around the German patrols, and skip straight to the nearest refugee camp. We both had heard the authorities were hard on those they caught; but once a refugee reached a camp he was allowed to stay on in the country.
We set out from Salzburg on foot. It was night, and in the dark we heard a German patrol whistling a little tune as he approached. Hiding behind trees, we waited until he passed merrily on his way. When he was out of earshot we crossed the border into Germany. How easy!
Bavaria is extremely picturesque, with forests, lakes, castles on islands, and mountain peaks, but it was so dark when we crossed over we wandered about and bumped against trees, hopelessly lost. At last we came to a road, but first I had to warn George about what God had shown me. Though ordinarily a brave and intelligent man, George was not accustomed to a refugee's life. He did not know what to say or do in really difficult circumstances. "George," I said, "God told me if you do anything wrong, we have to pay the price, so please be careful about what you say or do."
"I'm tired," was his response. "That's just the way it is," I replied. "We have to walk."
We were standing now by a road and could follow it to some town or village. But a car approached. George immediately attempted to stop the vehicle, expecting a nice ride to the nearest town . Stop, they did. But, alas, it was the police! In a flash we had to high-tail it into the woods, with the police hot on our trail. But they also acted on impulse, leaving their dog behind in the car. So they had to run back to get the dog before resuming the chase. George and I came to a wide and deep river. We foolishly plunged in and somehow made it to the other shore. I had to drag poor George out onto the riverbank. Then we continued in our soggy shoes and clothes and came to an open gas station.
An attendant was there on duty despite the late hour, so I used the German I had learned from my German father to ask directions to the nearest train station. The man told us it was in Petting, only three or four kilometers away.
We found the little, cozy, warm train depot. Inside we dried ourselves off by the heat registers. Feeling better, George engaged the station clerk in a detailed account about my escape from Romania, adding candidly that we were Romanian refugees.
Hearing this, my heart immediately sank into my shoes. The agent called the police. In two minutes they arrived at the station and arrested us, since we were illegal immigrants without visas. Thoroughly exhausted, and knowing it was futile to resist, we were taken to jail. Our reception, as we had been forewarned, was rough. The Germans had no particular liking for illegal aliens. George was upset by the treatment we received. He had never been in jail before. "George," I reminded my friend, "I told you not to make any mistake."
But I knew my own mistake: failing to obey God's explicit command to go to the Austrian camp instead of trying to sneak in Germany's back door. Now we both had to suffer the consequences of George's impulsiveness and my own disobedient agreement in following him. The police already had a large group of illegal Yugoslavians on their hands. We were put with them, then questioned.
I told the police everything from start to finish, taking care not to deviate or change my story in any way. I was completely honest. George, I learned, did not know how to keep to the facts. His story swerved first one way and then another as he was being questioned. The police soon grew upset with him, while they became friendlier toward me. When asked to declare any money, I told them the truth: none. George promptly said the same. But soon he was in big trouble, for a small fortune was discovered hidden in his shoe.
Angry over George's lying, the police called in a translator, an old German who had lived many years in Romania. We were questioned again. My story held at all points. George's story fell apart. When we were alone, I warned George that he was making things worse for himself by not being straightforward with the police. But he became very upset. He was petrified that they would send him back to Romania (a distinct possibility because of his lies).
Concerned for his safety, I prayed for him. George was so deeply affected by the possibility of forced return to Romania, where he would be imprisoned and possibly executed, his hair color changed overnight! I had previously heard of such cases of extreme stress, but still it amazed me to see George's hair turn white.
Two week after our arrest, the questioning was concluded. The police put us all in a big, black van. Twenty Yugoslavians and two Romanians were being taken SOMEWHERE, but the Yugoslavians acted as though they knew everything. On the way to the border they kept prodding George, saying that he was being sent back to Yugoslavia, and thence to the lion's den of Romania. Not knowing that they were only trying to scare him, George fell to their tactics. George was completely overcome with the fearful prospect of returning to Romania and the potential consequences.
"We're all being sent back to Yugoslavia," they said to George, "and when you get to our country the police will boot you back to Romania!" George believed every terrible word and broke down completely. He became so sick to his stomach he could not even control his bodily functions. It is not nice to say, but the truth is poor George couldn't help making a mess in his pants. Soon his devilish tormenters, who had achieved their cruel aim, were laughing and trying to move away from my wretched friend in the crowded vehicle.
The van suddenly stopped. George and I were called out. Leaving us on the road to the local prison, the van sped off. Dazed and surprised, George looked at the nearby Austrian prison and realized God had granted mercy, despite the mess he had made of his testimony. Within minutes, he perked up and looked much improved in his expression, if not in hair color and body.
"Don't be afraid, we won't be sending you back to Romania," the prison authorities assured us. "But we must ask why you two didn't go to the refugee camp here in Austria when you first arrived?" "Why, I was foolish!" I replied. "God said to go to the refugee camp, but I ignored my better judgment, choosing Germany instead."
It had been a hard lesson, but we had both learned something. The stay in the Austrian prison lasted two weeks, but they treated us very well. Then we were taken to the refugee camp where we should have gone in the first place.