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Stefan

 

I’m from Hasko ... a small provincial town in Bulgaria. My father was a Pharmacist ... he owned the best pharmacy in all the area. He grew wealthy grinding powders ... I didn’t like it ... not for me ... the beginning is quite light work but later, little by little, it is more complicated chemistry. What fascinated me very much was typically childish things ... the weights, the scales, the tiny weights for cocaine ... my father said I must never touch them. I liked to play with the very, very little weights on the scales.

My father used to tell me a story. What happened one night, at about eight o’clock, the pharmacy is closing ... he took one of the old roulette ... I don’t know what it is ... to close the shop completely from outside. There is a Russian fellow who does not go ... he was sitting down, quietly, in the first part of the pharmacy ... suddenly, he jumps up, ‘You give me the cocaine!’ He had a pistol under his coat … a revolver. My father gets some Aspirin, crushes it, and gives it to the man, and the man runs away.

I should start again. I’ve started speaking of things that are already too late. I have earlier memories. There was a family portrait ... when I was one and a half years of age, I am not sure ... I cannot prove it now ... all of my family are dead, so how would I prove it? I remember the man with all the old apparatus ... it makes me laugh to think of it. I was very tiny. I don’t know the words now ... my sister is five years older then me, five or six. I was jealous that they put ribbons on her and not for me, so they put it on me, and I started to cry ... this photograph is in my book.

I wish I had other photographs to prove to myself how things were but the machines were not there. That could have helped us but now there is nothing else.

The people here they say, ‘Are you writing a book? Where is your book’? I say, ‘In my memory’. I am writing my book in my mind. I can’t help you too much because I am writing my book with another fellow. The book is finished now ... no title ... we are not completely sure ... several names ... later we will chose. I am writing with the help of another fellow, not in this city, he is far away, in the past, in my own town. This is something I have wanted to do for a very, very long time.

I was in the Army ... obligatory when I was 21. I finished High School. Instead of going to the Army as reserve officers, they put us in the ordinary Army and then they tried to pick up who was good. I did not enjoy it too much. Two years in the Army until I got my Second Lieutenant badge. After that, several times we went back for refreshing … I had my book somewhere ... my Army book but not here ... it is lost.

The War was bad. The Nazis had come to Bulgaria ... I do not know it so well now ... they had injections to make people behave good ... people were moved in trucks for animals. There was a policy and people were in the policy … it said that some people had to be moved to camps ... they were not the right people. Some of them tried to make their own way. We had some relatives who were Diplomats and we were not harmed ... Diplomats in France and Switzerland. The camps were awful, you do not know if you are going to escape, your life goes nowhere ... in full blindness they will take you. I know people before they went to the camps and I hear nothing more about them.

The things I don’t want to touch now will be in the book ... the book I am already writing with the man who comes. When the material for the book is ready, I can talk more freely about all that happened. I can tell you some things ... the blocked radio stations ... illegal. I was in Sofia in one of the bombardments in 1943 … I was going to study in Germany, I went to Sofia to get the visa to go to Germany. That night I was bombed, we went into the National Bank and I sheltered and that was all ... it was the English bombing ... they were bombing the petrol in Romania and, when they returned, they dropped the rest of the bombs on Sofia.

After the War, Communism was still in Bulgaria ... you could not write freely about what happened ... I no longer have the photographs. I am very glad that you came ... I only tell that story to myself ... I did not tell that story often ... it will be in the book.

I was twenty nine when I left Bulgaria … after University … I studied jurisprudence ... Law ... two years ... twenty seven I started, and twenty nine I finished ... a very, very short time for Law ... we didn’t think that ... we thought it was too long actually! When the regime changed in Bulgaria and the Communists came, they changed the laws immediately. There was a different law for building workers and a different law for teachers. I stayed but not in my own town ... I moved to Sofia but it was difficult.

It was very bad … for me not so complicated as it is for you ... I did not want to mention the politics ... I want to talk about ... just the humanity ... a human book ... in that respect … not to make it political. Inevitably, I was against the Communist’s regime but it was a different time when a man could take the red paint and paint himself red.

I was in the last year of the University when the Communists came. They scratched my name from the Bar … I was angry … it stopped me going forward ... immediately, I wanted to escape … I survived by escaping ... it would take half a book to say how I escaped … maybe not, it seems now that there was more to it than there was, it was something like you see in criminal films.

I didn’t tell anybody that I was going to escape. When you escape, they come to your family and ask questions ... instinctively the parents will tell how I escaped … so I told no one ... not my parents ... not anybody ... they would have told ... the Police and the soldiers would have made them tell.

I made a plan with a friend of mine, a friend from when we were children ... until we escaped. I think now it seems different ... very dangerous ... I was lucky ... my friend graduated as an Architect ... he went to study in Germany. Hitler ordered that everyone who is Bulgarian must come back to their own country. He hears that news before I gave him some advice, ‘Hide in Germany. Don’t come back.’ He came back to Bulgaria and he has to escape again ... to escape another time when he had already escaped! They sent them all back in animal trucks, on the railway, push them all in.

I was told that people were searching for me, so I made a plan to escape … I went to Turkey ... with my friend. Somehow, with courage, I survived ... courage and my brain ... and with my feet ... because the border between Bulgaria and Turkey was mined ... a few feet one bomb from another ... it was impossible. The people near the border, they escaped through the minefield ... I went my own way … jumping from a train.

I do not know how we lived … we were interned … everyday you live alone. There was only one thing for all the poor people ... soup, like water, they give you in the morning ... and one later … food but not real food. This is what they were giving to their poor people and that is what they gave to us. It was the only food. We escaped and found some Macedonian people and spent time with them.

In Turkey, I spent five years waiting for a commission ... in a not very nice place … one of the most inexpensive places, a cheap hotel. I saw a girl who was looking outside ... and we start looking at each other … oh, it makes me laugh! One day, she was coming from the outside and I start to talk to her in this bad English ... and she talks back in broken English ... broken from her and broken from me. I spent with her almost two years. I promised to take her to Australia but nothing happened.

We asked permission for resettlement to New Zealand. By that time, I had some small knowledge ... French and English, so I was helping a refugee organization helping to resettle the Bulgarian refugees … and I could be resettled myself. After five years in Turkey, I went to Australia, and then to England and Italy and France … and my friend came with me. Nobody was caring for the immigrants. It seemed so far to travel to Australia.

At one time, there was an amnesty for people who had escaped and I received a letter from my brother ... one letter, so perfect, so nice and well written. He was asking me to come back. At this time, the Scouts’ organization was finishing and all the equipment was put into our home ... all the black banners for the kings ... everything was in our house. There was only one old broken typewriter but, on this letter, there was not even a little mistake ... nothing. I knew immediately that it was a Government letter my brother had signed, he did not want to write the letter. It is sad but there are things that are forbidden to mention.

In Australia, I still had no money, nothing and no-one. We did not know but they told us that we had to sign a protocol that we work in the place ... and for very little money. I worked in the iron works near Sydney … I was in the laboratory. My friend was in a very, very dangerous place … moving hot iron. We left again, without permission, and went to Sydney where I started to write about Modern Art ... new art ... I was a Lawyer and I write about art … it seems funny ... not so right. I worked on my own as a Journalist.

First of all, I write the news … that was a long, long time ago … and, after that, I think I am in your hands.