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