Sat down with my dad this evening and made the a rough timeline of events and locations. You’ve gotta start somewhere!

August, 1967 – 18 years old

  • Prolo, Hercegovina – Where he was born.
  • Took a bus to Split, Croatia in 1967
  • Train to Zabreb, Croatia
  • Bus to Babina Greda, Croatia – To say goodbye to his family.
  • Bus back to Zagreb to buy a train ticket.
  • Took train from Zagreb to Dravograd, Slovenia to get to a border town. (August 12th 1967)
  • Dravograd to Lavamünd, Austria on foot (through the mountains)
  • Crossed the border on the morning of August 15th, 1967 (Ascension of Mary catholic holiday. “She was with me that day”)
  • Turned himself into the Austrian police in Lavamünd, and explained his escape from Yugoslavia.
  • Police took him from Lavamünd to Klagenfurt, Austria in a police car. 
    • Took his papers away and put him in a single person cell for a week. 
  • Was transfered to Vienna processing center by bus (‘With a whole bunch of other suckers”)
  • After being processed in Vienna, was bussed to Triaskirchen, Austria the same day.
    • First or second week of Sept. 1967
  • Housed on the third floor with 64 other people. No courtyard walking privileges until it was determined wether to allow him to seek refuge in a third country (if he could find a sponsor).
  • October - transferred from the third floor to the second floor freilager, which allowed him to leave the camp to look for work, and also look for sponsors/ fill out papers to go to a third country.
    • During the day, he’d work as a day laborer (standing on the corner waiting to be picked up for work). If no one picked him up he’s go to the YMCA and learn english and read books. First book he remembers picking up was “My three sisters” or “Three sisters”.
    • He had some visitors. Ivanka’s husband Marko (his brother-in-law) came to visit with underwear and clothes. And Mirko Herceg (Baba Mandas nephew), Stjepan or Ivan Soslic (both from the village he was born) they came to visit him because they worked in Austria. They brought him some money that his uncle Peter sent him. They had lunch at a restaurant in Triaskirchen together. It was a very memorable event. 
    • In camp he ran into an old family friend that he didn’t know was there. Rade and Radojka Planinic. They had relatives in Chicago that sponsored them to go to America. Rodojka worked in the camp kitchen, which helped him because he’d always get an extra ration : )
    • There were no other people in the camp from Prolog, but there were from Babina Greda (where his family lived at the time).
    • As a day laborer: worked in a park raking leaves and pruning in Vienna. Worked in a cider bottling factory. Delivered coal to houses. Worked in a green house. Worked on a sod farm. Worked in a vineyard for a doctor. 
    • First time he worked for the doctor was for the harvest. Worked through the harvest, crushing, fermentation, and cellering (from October to March 1968). The doctor had a college aged daughter that “kinda fell for him”. Since doctor had no sons he told me I wouldn’t like America or any other country and that he should stay there and take care of his business and daughter. The doctor remembered when the americans were in Austria during ww2, and he visited america and he wasn’t too impressed. He said that it was the only place he wanted to go to, so the doctor said if he ever changed his mind he could always come back to Austria. (side note: Fast forward 40 years. Dad is at a party in Croatia with his brother and Mr. Kovacevich, a friend of the family to lives in Triaskirchen. The doctors name comes up in the conversation! His daughter now has a little store in Triaskirchen. At some point in time she said something like “Yeah a lot of men worked for my dads farm, but I only remember the one who went to America”.)
  • March or April of 1968 – They gave him a passport and said “find a place to go, and here are a list of countries to apply to”. He only applied to one – the United States. Told them he had a great uncle that lives in New York (going by the name of Michael Erceg). He lived on e. 49th street. Told them he would sponsor him, but never heard back from him. 
  • Camp director was pressuring him to either find a sponsor or go to Australia. He didn’t want to go to Australia so he went to the American embassy (twice a week for a few months) asking them to give him a visa to go to the US. 
  • He agreed to sign up for the Army when he got to the states, so they agreed to let him go.
  • He still had to find a sponsor, but it could be anybody. Beba the camp director (a croatian refugee herself, working for the camp organization) for a sponsor through CARITAS.
  • The only way to issue a ticket was to a direct city of the sponsor.
  • He earned enough to pay for a ticket. 
  • May 31st, 1968 – Landed in Laguardia Aiport, NYC. on an Al Italia flight.
    • Slept in Grand Central Station for a few days before his flight to Cleveland.
  • Flew to Cleveland – Address was 40th st and St.Clair. There was a croatian bar and restaurant ran by a Croatian guy who let him stay with a few of his friends for free until he could find a job. 
  • First part of June he found a job at a nail factory. He fed the wire into a machine that stamped out the nails. He worked for three days, and that weekend he got wind that there might be a job with a small powder coating company called “Mid West Metallic”. there was a Croatian guy who worked there who hooked him up with a guy names Michael (lived in shaker heights). he drove him to the doctor for the physical exam, drove him to the office to fill out the employment paper work etc. Really took him under his wing. 
  • Michael rented him a studio apartment on the second floor of one of his apartments. Since he didnt have transportation to work, a Croatian friend (who had a Karman Ghia) picked him up and took him to work each day.
  • He had no phone, no alarm clock, so it didn’t matter what time he woke up in the middle of the night he wouldn’t go back to sleep becuase he was afraid he’d miss his ride.
  • He worked there through October 1968. Bought a used 1964 1/2 mustang and a week later the company went on strike. 

To be continued…