Erazim Kohak - chinks in the Iron Curtain

Erazim Kohak

With the communist takeover in 1948 Erazim Kohak left Czechoslovakia as a teenager. It was the beginning of over forty years of exile, during which Erazim Kohak became a respected university professor, philosopher and writer in the United States. But he never lost his strong sense for where his homeland lay, and after the fall of communism Erazim Kohak didn't hesitate to return to his native country for good. Here he looks back to the late 1940s, travelling to the Czechoslovak border from Vienna, his first stop on the path to exile, just to catch a glimpse of the native land he had recently left.

When we were leaving home in the wake of the 1948 communist coup, we were not leaving as emigrants, and not only because we were fleeing by night across the border. An emigrant seeks a new home. We were leaving ours, intent on returning. Yet we had challenged the regime and could return only with its fall.

And yet, along the border there were spots where we could touch our native land. There was a spot near Deutsch Wagram whence we could see the Bratislava Castle in the distance. We used to go there by train from Vienna, to take a look at our homeland.

Then there was a wine-growing region near Laa an der Thaya where a vintner's road marked the border, but the barbed wire fences ran some hundred meters further in. There we could pluck a wild rose on the other side and say, "I brought you a rose from home."

We liked best the abandoned railway station in Eisenhut. There the border intersected the waiting room, Czechoslovak State Railway ticket counters on one side, German Imperial Railway ones on the other. Brick red tiles on the floor marked the end of one land and beginning of the other.

After the coup the Communists closed the border crossing, but even they were ashamed to build a barbed wire fence in a waiting room. They pulled back out of sight and left the station with its Czechoslovak half under American control, later taken over by German Bundesbahn. The abandoned station recalled the tale of the Sleeping Beauty. No one watched over it. Layers of dust covered the benches and the windows. The silence was dream like. We would tiptoe in, whispering. Then we would step over the tiles up to the counter marked CSD. Going back for our train in Germany we would assure each other, "We have been in Czechoslovakia."

There we now are. Home, though we lived our lives elsewhere. Home, as much as a human can be in this world.