To read Part 1 of this two-part story, click on the link My Agonizing Question That Refused To Be Answered
December 13, 1981 - The Day That Stays With Me Forever
"Where is Larry? At a time like this, where is Larry?
Today, the 35th anniversary of these events, I remember...
Friday night the 11th of December 1981, The American School of Warsaw held its annual Christmas concert. (Our family of five lived life normally, that is, as much as one can live a covert, double life normally.) Wanting to participate in the festivities at our little girl’s school, Larry determined to attend the concert, and leave afterwards for Vienna and the required directors' conference. The weather hijacked his plans.
We emerged from the concert to the stunning reality of a blizzard of epic proportions. This hazardous snowstorm prevented Larry's Friday night travel, and shoved his departure forward into Saturday, the next day. (This factor becomes significant.)
Saturday, December 12, 1981, Larry departed from our home in Warsaw, headed for the southern border crossing between Poland and Czechoslovakia. He intended to drive through Poland, through Czechoslovakia, into Austria and the free West to attend the scheduled conference in Vienna.
As darkness fell, he approached the Cieszyn border station on the Olza River, south of Katowice in the region of Silesia. The border guard took his documents, passport and travel permits, and disappeared into the guards' booth. Time passed; the bitter cold made waiting in the car nearly unbearable. Why the delay in returning his documents? Puzzling.
Without explanation, the guard eventually returned to the bridge separating Poland from Czechoslovakia, gave my husband his passport and papers, but authoritatively denied him permission to leave the country. What?! This made no sense! Why?
“A technicality. Return to Katowice and correct your visa error with the Czechoslovak consulate when they reopen tomorrow or Monday.” Conversation over.
Larry, not being one to easily take ‘No’ for an answer, argued his case (in Polish, of course). The guard refused to budge, and threatened to impound the car within minutes if its driver hesitated further to remove himself and the vehicle off the bridge.
First the blizzard, now the border guard… this journey was fraught with difficulty.
Exit denied, plan foiled, a frustrated Larry reluctantly backup up, drove away from the border bridge, and returned to Katowice. Nothing more could be done tonight. This bizarre clerical error, a minor technicality with the Czechoslovak consulate, would have to wait.
Exhausted, he looked for a hotel, and accepted the inevitable: he would be late to the conference. In the morning, he would make the third attempt to leave the country.
However, traveling mindlessly through the dark city, a puzzling occurrence caught his attention. Outside the police station, a caravan of vans stood on the curb as Zomo (military police) unloaded scores of arrested, handcuffed victims. Puzzling. Even on Saturday night when vodka flowed freely, this defied explanation.
Sunday: Martial Law!
Dawn brought the sickening reality when an irate citizen stormed into the hotel restaurant where Larry ate his breakfast. The rage in this man’s voice communicated the fire in his soul. He screamed:
They have done it! The Communist government has shut down our country. Stan Wojenny (Martial Law) has been declared!
Anger! Larry surged with outrageous anger against the military government for this cruel treatment over its own people. Truly, Poland faced a dark and devastating future. Now last night's street scene became clear. These were police raids making arrests of citizens with political ties. Sadly, this brutality was only a foretaste of harsher realities.
My husband surveyed the restaurant to gauge the response of other customers. As he absorbed the vehement reactions, he considered his own plight. What now?
Suddenly(!), anger gave way to relief as the curtain pulled back. Oh God! You kept me here!
Clarity came into focus. God, you dramatically used a blizzard and a border guard to prevent me from leaving the country, and leaving my young family behind The Iron Curtain. The gravity of the situation, the realities of God’s supernatural protection, washed over him like a spiritual tsunami.
Where is Larry? - the question which plagued me all day- now had its answer. Larry sat at a border crossing on a bridge in southern Poland with angels standing in front of his vehicle, preventing him from leaving the country.
For husband and father, relief gave way to urgent action; every second mattered. Returning to Warsaw and our family became uppermost in his mind as he formulated a plan. First, he purchased much-needed gasoline from a taxi driver on the black market. (No apologies)
Then, he set out to make a journey like none before or since. A typical three-hour drive stretched into twelve long, bitterly cold hours driving through one military roadblock after another.
At each of the sixteen roadblocks, soldiers with machine guns checked his documents, searched his vehicle, and demanded answers regarding his return to Warsaw. All this time he raced the clock; he must beat the mandatory curfew at sundown or meet with serious consequences. (Remember, we were undercover missionaries living a dual life. We worked diligently to obey the law and avoid attracting attention to ourselves.)
Just as the sun dropped in the western sky, he finally pulled up, unannounced, to Ulica Dembińskiego 4B. Home! Squeals of joy, tears of relief marked our unexpected reunion. Regardless of the future we faced, we now faced it together.
Before going to bed, Larry and I embraced and gazed together, one final moment, out the same window I gazed out all day. A soldier, with his machine gun held at ready, patrolled back and forth on our street . Though it felt like Leonard Brezhnev held control over lives, we knew he did not. God held our lives in the Hollow of His Hand. This day, December 13, 1981 proved it.
The story of Martial Law made its indelible mark on my life and the life of my family. But this is just my story. Anyone who lived those dark days has a story which deserves to be told. The real heroes, the heroes of my heart, are my Polish friends who suffered mental, spiritual, emotional and physical agony through a history we shared. With these words, I pay heartfelt tribute to each of them. You know who you are. I love you dearly and deeply. Looking back, God gave me the privilege to share your history alongside you. You are am amazing people!
I know. I was there.