From the Frying Pan into the Fire
After the end of WWII when Tito came into power, the Lamos family of Pivnica, Yugoslavia decided it was time to leave, not relishing the thought of living under communism. Tito’s government, however, forbid them to travel to the West, where they desired to go. Stefan Lamos, the father, knew they could go to a less restrictive, communist-friendly country and try to depart from there. They sold everything and moved to Czechoslovakia in early 1946, then still a democratic country. Or at least four members of the Lamos family did; John, the youngest, after having served a year in the army in WWII, stayed behind to finish his studies.
Once settled in Bratislava, Stefan and his wife Pauline, along with their two older sons, Jerry and Stefan, needed to establish residency for two years before being allowed to leave. Through a network of friends and family, they were introduced in letters to Pauline Shuster and her husband Jerry in Canada, who began helping them to complete the necessary petitions and paperwork and purchase of train and ship tickets. They also agreed to be the Lamos’ sponsor, guaranteeing residence and financial support for the family upon their eventual arrival.
In July of 1946, democratic Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš invited Klement Gottwald to be prime minister, lulled into a sense of agreeableness with the Communist party leader due in part to Gottwald’s claim to be a believer of Tomáš Masaryk and due to his expertise in playing to the sympathy of Czechoslovak nationalism by expressing strong anti-German sentiments.
The Communists were sure of their stronghold position in other eastern European countries, were sure they would soon come into power in France and Italy, and were content to wait for the democratic election in May of 1948 when they thought they would easily sweep into power in Czechoslovakia. The Lamos family was equally sure they would be safely in Canada by then. By the end of 1947 however, the Communist parties in France and Italy had lost the elections and the Communists decided it was time to push for power in Czechoslovakia. They began to collectivize farms and demanded higher productivity without higher pay, enraging citizens. Worried, the Lamos family knew their departure to the West might now be in jeopardy.
John Lamos, 17, had finished his studies in Yugoslavia in the spring of 1947 and joined the others in Bratislava. By early February, 1948, the Communists began to remove non-Communists from the National Police Force, building an extension of the KGB, the soviet secret police, and began mobilizing supporters across the country. The Lamos family watched anxiously as tensions built in the government and Communist led demonstrations occurred across the country. On February 21, twelve non-Communist ministers resigned in protest, assuming President Beneš would refuse their resignations and convince the Communists to stop their aggressive behavior; Beneš, shockingly, did not. The Lamos’ “rights of passage” papers allowing them the freedom to leave the country had still not arrived.
In Canada, Jerry and Pauline Shuster listened to the dire news on CBC Radio, and waited fearfully by the phone for news from Stefan Lamos.
We feel free when we escape – even if it be but from the frying pan into the fire. ~Eric Hoffer