A man's desire for freedom when none existed. He crossed the Iron Curtain the most dangerous crossing in the world to escape Czechoslovakia. This is the story of Jozef Imrich:
Jozef Imrich was born in Kežmarok, Czechoslovakia on the 16th of May 1958, he grew up with his mother, father, and siblings. His aunt was his inspiration growing up. His father traded in the black market.
Jozef stayed in Czechoslovakia until he was 22, he only wanted to see the world.
He was born in a cemetery and was used to death... black death. He used to dig for carrots in the back garden and dug up bones instead.
He had a church in the front, a cemetery to the left and behind the house and the priest lived at the right of the property.
Death has always been part of his life. He used to hide in fresh graves playing hide and seek with his friends and sister, when he was 9. Spirits where he lived - stories of spirits were common. The toilet was an outhouse with a window. There was no running water either. When you looked out you could see the cemetery.
Kežmarok was under Communists rule. The Communist era in Czechoslovakia went from 1948 to 1989. They only manufactured one shoe size 7. If you did not fit the size than it was too bad you had to walk around in small shoes. Jozef has witnessed a lot and remembers people sending powerful messages by giving themselves up in front of the villagers. At the time of the communist era, people would often try to escape Czechoslovakia. They drowned.
Jozef didn't tell his family that he decided to leave, he felt he couldn't. They would try and stop him. It was just something he had to do because of Communism and suppression, what he had experienced - enough is enough!
On the 7th of July 1980, he swam across the river to escape Czechoslovakia with two of his friends. They were probably the last ones to attempt this.
The Iron Curtain, that dividing boundary had two solders armed with guns. This was to stop the Germans who used to run over to West Germany, and the Czechs who used to run over to Austria. The Border split brothers and sisters from one another.
He and his friends were shot at, they were supposed to swim for about 10-20 meters to cross the cold river, the river was very wild. Jozef took his clothes off except his pants, he didn't care if they caught him - what can they do to me? I'll go to jail. He took off shoes, backpack, jacket - he was a better swimmer than his friends.
He didn't care about his stuff - he had some gold in a backpack to help along the way. When his backpack and clothes were off he just started to swim without them, but his friends ran in and started swimming with their clothes on, which gave them a lot of weight on their body. Jozef was a strong swimmer. He held on to his dog Bessie when he struggled. When he was pushed under the water his dog helped him. Jozef and his dog were the only ones to survive. Sadly his best friends drowned. He was really close to his friend Andre who he knew from when he was about 5. Few people have been affected by the Iron Curtain as he has.
"I am not shocked by the reality of evil, or by the willingness of people to hurt one another. I am shocked at the way we give the power to some individuals to hurt us without a fight" - Jozef Imrich
Jozef made it Austria, he only knew a little German and he was separated from his beloved dog "Bessie". She had to go to quarantine for 9 months and he knew he couldn't afford her. She found another loving family.
He had lost his:
-two best friends
- a sister who he was really close to
He wasn't able to see his family until years later, for 9 years he couldn't go back and see them. He met with them in Austria it was very overwhelming. They coped with a lot, they were interviewed by the authorities and suffered from the thought of him crossing the Iron Curtain and not being able to see him.
He settled in Australia. He and his wife live in Sydney and he works as a Parliamentary Librarian. He educated himself.
Jozef now enjoys the company of his many friends and has a very outgoing, loud personality. He is very friendly.
Jozef loves to adventure and go kayaking, being surrounded by friends, his wife and nature. However, the daunting experience stays with him and is embedded in the back of his mind.