“I was scared to say goodbye to my mother. She wouldn’t have let me go, I think. I told my brother that if I hadn’t come back by ten that night he should tell my parents I’d probably reached Austria.
We just had to leave, my friend Ivan and I. We were sixteen years old. The Hungarian revolt had just been crushed, so soon Russian border patrols would intensify. ‘If I don’t leave now, I will never escape this country’, I thought. And I wanted to see the world, be free.
I didn’t bring anything. No underwear. No toothbrush, And definitely not this heavy pestle and mortar. You couldn’t. Carrying anything raised suspicion.
We got on the train. It was headed west, but halted a hundred kilometers before the border. We continued on foot and walked though fields and woods the entire day. At night, we lay close together in a haystack. It was cold and dark, and we were scared.
We walked for days on end and thought we’d crossed the border three times. The first time was when we reached the end of a forest and saw a stretch of raked sand, some ten meters wide. Landmines. We decided to draw straws. I jumped across the field in four steps, Ivan followed. It went well. ‘We’ve reached Austria!’, we thought.
We walked on, but then we realized there were fences left and right. We were walking inside the Iron Curtain. Suddenly, someone called out in Hungarian: ‘Stop or I’ll shoot!’ He wanted to know where we were headed. ‘West’, we admitted. He started swearing loudly: ‘Damn it, I can’t believe you’re crossing the border on my watch!’ He thought about it for a bit, then said: ‘Go straight ahead and run.’ We started running and zigzagging. We knew shooting us could earn him a distinction. Nothing happened, he let us go. That made has left a deep impression on me. I still think about him often.
In the distance, we saw ten-meter-high watchtower. That was the real border. We were lucky again as the tower we passed was unmanned. We swam across a river and entered a village, freezing. But this time we really made it to Austria. Someone walked up to us and took us to a dormitory with many more Hungarian refugees. We shook hands: we made it!
After that, I traveled to the Netherlands via Vienna. Many years later, when my parents passed away, I took this pestle and mortar with me to the Netherlands immediately. It reminds me of our daily life at home, my mother grinding poppy seeds in the kitchen, the cake we were to eat together soon.”