We Escaped Through A Mouse Hole In The Iron Curtain — Part 1
Mila Mitrovich — Written in March, 1953
Editor’s Note: In March of 1946, Radmila —”Mila”— Mitrovich and her family risked their lives to escape Yugoslavia shortly after Stalin’s Iron Curtain enshrouded Josep Tito’s Socialist Federal Republic. In these four weekly installments, The American Landscape is proud to present Mila’s first-hand account of her family’s heroic efforts to escape tyranny.
My husband and I, with two small children, left Yugoslavia secretly, because passports to travel abroad were issued by the Communist regime to party members only. When leaving, we sincerely hoped to become American citizens after five years. Seven years have elapsed since we crossed the border — and only the last half of these years on American soil. The first three and a half years of wandering through Europe was a consequence of the turbulence and confusion of the Free World after the Second [World] War.
During the Second War, Yugoslavia was also one of those under the German occupation. In spite of the dreadful death penalty connected with it, all of us used to look faithfully at the only bright spot on the radio dial, locking ourselves in a dark room to listen to the BBC. We listened to the broadcast through which the Western Powers kept the people subdued by Hitler informed on the development of the war. No one doubted the truthfulness of the news, and nobody wanted to. Besides, each broadcast was full of optimism for a quick and successful end to the war. One night, the radio spread the good news that the Four Freedoms of Man were proclaimed by Roosevelt. These Four Freedoms would reign all over the world after this terrible and bloody war. And the little light on the radio dial looked to all of us brighter than the brightest and shiniest star.
We firmly believed from the very beginning that Germany would collapse, sooner or later. The time was passing. Life under the occupation was becoming more and more difficult and dangerous. But one day, at last, the Germans started losing some battles to the Allies.We anxiously expected the decisive Allied invasion of Europe. The radio spoke every day more enthusiastically of the Big Russian Ally. Stalin became an equal partner. He was also one of the Big Four, who was supposed to ensure the Four Freedoms in his sphere of interest.
To us, so close to Stalin, all this sounds rather alarming. The small group of Leftists within our Country begins to behave and act as a very important group. We follow the development of events around us with increasing fear for the future. The civil war is underway. And from what we positively know, we start to realize that the Allied radio broadcast does not give us the true account of these events. The Communist groups are favored, they are called Allies, help is sent to them by air and the Western Powers urge the people to join them. Under such circumstances what can the small do against the big ones? How can the truth help if the one who is telling it is not taken into consideration? To believe that the blind shall see is to believe in miracles. And that is how we were — as history has shown later — handed over by the Big Allies to Stalin, at his own request. We changed the master of the occupation by switching from Hitler to Stalin.
A small hope remained, however, in spite of everything: That Stalin will have to keep his promise given to the Big Allies, and that free elections will be allowed. But the veil had already fallen upon us, a veil called now 'The Iron Curtain'. Our 'free elections' were 100% for the regime that organized them. My family belonged to the vast group of people in my old Country who knew what True Democracy means. And that was quite a crime under the new regime. The usual communist reforms took place immediately, which meant that everything belonging to somebody was confiscated, that all those who did not show spontaneous admiration for the new administration were proclaimed ‘enemies of the people' and put in jail.
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