We huddled in a small frightened group in the enclosure at the Vienna airport. We expected many things on the other side of the Iron Curtain, but not this. The representative of the Jewish organization, which was supposed to help us with the immigration, met us at the airport, accompanied by half a dozen of soldiers with rifles: "for protection". Because most of the people were going to the U.S., they didn't want to surrender their visas in fear that they'd be compelled to go to Israel instead. That's why my mom, who was approached first with the request to submit her visa, brought her palm forward in a gesture of emphatic denial and announced with as much aplomb (and English) as she could master: "I have 'Nos-sing' (nothing)!" She and the other immigrants, who sensed a leader in her, then proceeded to trot away around the enclosure, followed by the official, looking exactly like a flock of sheep with a sheepdog nipping at their heels.
After a few minutes of fruitless pursuit, he got fed up. "Halt", - he roared - "get to the wall, put your luggage down!" He then gestured to the soldiers. They surrounded the group and pointed their rifles at them. Now, these were the Jewish people, standing in a totally unfamiliar environment, surrounded from all sides by rifles and the German speech, with an official rep yelling "Halt!" The situation reached such a degree of unbelievable that, I could hardly suppress the desire to giggle and stick my finger into the barrel of the rifle that was in front of my face!
Docile now, the immigrants were loaded into the bus and driven to the compound where we were to stay. We took in the high walls with barbed wire on them, and the guards on the towers and started to sweat in earnest. What now: "Abandon hope, ye who enter here"?
Everything was alright inside though. Each family got a clean dorm room and settled down for the night.
The next couple of mom's presumed special standing among the others, our family was called first for an interview. After the scene at the airport, we wanted even less to do with going to Israel than ever before. Annoyed by our stubbornness, the officials retaliated. They took our family to the Vienna train station and left us there with all the luggage, - minus the visas, the translation or any idea what to do next!
Fortunately, prompted by these dire circumstances, the rusty memory wheels in dad's brain turned and he remembered that he spoke some German! With his aid we found the American Embassy. There he was obliged to disclose the names of all the relatives in the U.S. He had a translator, but, once into German, he couldn't switch back to Russian!
Everything went smoothly from then on. We spent a few days in a motel in Vienna, then - an unforgettable month and a half in Italy, waiting for our entrance visas to the U.S. At first, I was sicker than a dog, - with cold as well as with longing for my friends and the theater.
Lera, her husband, Grisha, and I went walking around Rome and to the Christmas Mass in Vatican.
I sat separately: that gave me the freedom to pray. The Pope was giving the Mass. My heart was overflowing with sincere repentance. I felt an incredible feeling of peace come and envelope me, warmer then any loving embrace. The priest, who was walking down the aisle, noticed how special my emotional state was; he came and blessed me. Ever since that day, I kept up the prayer. Because I didn't know about the great division in Christianity, I didn't understand, why the churches that I visited looked so different from one another. God's Grace found me in every one of them.