Cold Com­fort

Life feels like a movie, un­til it be­comes all too real in one fright­en­ing moment

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - My Story - BY LEONARD SAWCZUK WALKER

Leonard Sawczuk Walker is a 72-yearold re­tired man­age­ment con­sul­tant. He lives in Syd­ney with his wife Mira and has three chil­dren and five grand­chil­dren. He en­joys dancing, singing and read­ing, and is cur­rently work­ing on a de­tailed novel about his life.

THERE ARE THOSE WHO SAY an­other ‘cold war’ is com­ing. Others be­lieve it has al­ready be­gun. Those of us who ex­pe­ri­enced the pre­vi­ous one would agree that no one in their right mind would want an­other.

It touched me late in Septem­ber 1972, when I was 27 years old. I had spent a glo­ri­ous month in Poland, vis­it­ing my fa­ther’s fam­ily, and was at the train sta­tion in Warsaw, wait­ing to start my jour­ney to Scot­land to visit my mother’s rel­a­tives. At the sta­tion was Mira, a 20-year-old girl I had met two weeks ear­lier at a fam­ily wed­ding.

The cus­tom at Pol­ish wed­dings is that each male guest hands the bride a flower, usu­ally a red or yel­low rose, wrapped in cel­lo­phane and tied in rib­bons. When it came to my turn, I no­ticed that the bride had so many flow­ers that I turned to her brides­maid, Mira, and gave her my red rose. She gave me a puz­zled look, then smiled. My heart melted. It was love at first sight for me.

At the re­cep­tion, I per­suaded Mira to dance with me and for a brief moment I sat be­side her. I pro­posed to

her there and then; with the help of my cousin who helped me trans­late. Mira was taken aback. “I’ve just met you,” she said. “I know noth­ing about you. Who do you think you are?”

She wasn’t easy to win over but the next day, with her par­ents and three sis­ters present, I met her at her home. We spent ev­ery day for the next two weeks to­gether. Mira bought a pocket Pol­ish/English dic­tio­nary – it was a fun time for both of us.

Back at the sta­tion, the scene re­sem­bled one from a movie. Boy on a train, lean­ing out of a win­dow, girl look­ing up at him from the plat­form. He tells her that he loves her and that he’ll come back for her. Be­fore meet­ing Mira, I had planned to spend a month in Scot­land then fly home to Syd­ney. Now, I promised to re­turn to Poland on my way through.

I even­tu­ally made my way to my com­part­ment, where I met a young French lady and an el­derly cou­ple. We greeted each other with a nod and re­alised that we could com­mu­ni­cate in lim­ited English.

The Cold War be­gan in 1945, at the end of World War II, when Ger­many was di­vided in two. Ber­lin, deep in East Ger­many, was also split in two when the Sovi­et­con­trolled au­thor­i­ties built the in­fa­mous Ber­lin Wall to keep their sub­jects in and ev­ery­one else out.

Our jour­ney into East Ger­many had largely been un­event­ful, un­til we pulled into the fa­mous Frieden­strasse Sta­tion in East Ber­lin.

The ticket in­spec­tor in­formed the el­derly cou­ple that they were in the wrong car­riage. I of­fered to help them with their lug­gage and ac­com­pany them to the cor­rect car­riage.

As I was re­turn­ing to my own car­riage, I heard an­gry and ag­gres­sive shout­ing and the shrill blow­ing of whis­tles. Ger­man Shep­herds strain­ing at their leashes were bark­ing and tear­ing along the plat­form with dozens of sol­diers armed with au­to­matic weapons. A Dober­man was snarling at me and sud­denly an of­fi­cer ap­peared and or­dered me to get into the ad­ja­cent car­riage. I didn’t speak Ger­man but

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