I GOT OFF OF THE TRAIN and was not sure what to do next. Suddenly I saw a stumpy man with glasses speedily walking on the platform and shouting out: “Who is from the Soviet Union? Come with me!” The man was a representative of the HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are; the organization protects the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom. HIAS advocates for the protection of refugees and ensures that displaced people are treated with the dignity they deserve. It was established in 1881 to aid Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. In 1975, the State Department asked HIAS to aid in resettling 3,600 Vietnamese refugees. Years later, in 2002, HIAS officially expanded its mission to help non-Jewish refugees.
From that moment on, starting in Vienna, my legal status in this world was as a refugee, and I was led by HIAS on my way to the United States of America.
When I stepped outside of the big railroad station in Vienna for the first time, I was shocked—in front of me I saw the dazzling, magnificent world with classy, shining cars coming and going, beautiful ladies in stylish fur coats and high heels getting out of cars, and tastefully dressed gentlemen helping them out. Station Square was busy but spotlessly clean. Tired, in my Soviet-style coat and knitted-by-myself hat, with my having-seen-better-days boots, dragging two heavy suitcases behind me, I felt like Cinderella at the ball of unknown life. It was unreal, like a shot in a movie. Today, thirty years later, I still remember this feeling like it happened just yesterday.
All of us who arrived from the Soviet Union gathered in one place and then climbed aboard the buses waiting near the railroad station. There were three buses, and they all took off in different directions.
Unfortunately, I saved no names of the places in Austria in my memory and I have no paper or picture trails left about my travels there. However, what is saved in my memory are my emotions and my reactions to everything I discovered while there.
Our bus brought our group of people to a gorgeous place high in the Alps mountains. There were about four houses in the tiny village, as well as a hotel and an RV park. It was a place where people were coming for skiing or for hiking in the mountains. Some of us were put in the hotel and others were assigned to the private houses—I was among the latter group.
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