Suspicion, Security, Strip Search, and Common Sense
Being manhandled at the airport or customs is no picnic. And when it happens to you, you should think police state.
At the…airport they behaved very suspiciously. I explained to the…chief that Tess was too weak to stand up, and I would go over the luggage with him. I had laid Tess out on a bench in the waiting-room. He demanded that she stand up and explain things during the customs examination. Otherwise we couldn’t leave. I tried to hold her up. Then a police official led me away. I left the nurse to help as best she could. In a little room two police officials went through my pocketbook and my pockets. Everything was in order. They then led me into a side room.
“Wait here,” they said.
I said I wanted to go back to help with the baggage inspection, that my wife was in a critical state; but they shut the door. I heard the lock turn. I was locked in. Five, ten, fifteen minutes. Pacing the floor. Time for the airplane to leave. Past time.
Then I heard Tess shout: “Bill, they’re taking me away to strip me!”
I had spoken with the…chief about that, explained that she was heavily bandaged, the danger of infection…I pounded on the door. No result. Through the window I could hear and see the [pilots] racing the two motors of their…plane, impatient to get away. After a half-hour I was led out to a corridor connecting the waiting-room with the airfield. I tried to get into the waiting-room, but the door was locked. Finally Tess came, the nurse supporting her with one arm and holding the baby in the other.
“Hurry, there,” snapped an official. “You’ve kept the plane waiting a half-hour.” I held my tongue and grabbed Tess.
She was gritting her teeth, as angry as I’ve ever seen her. “They stripped me, the …” she kept saying. I thought she was going to turn and scratch at the official following us.
We hurried across the runway to the plane. I wondered what could happen in the next seconds before we were in the plane and safe. Maybe [someone] would come running out and demand my arrest. Then we were in the plane and it was racing across the field.
I put it in italics because it is not my story. It is William L Shirer’s real-life account of trying to leave Vienna, Austria, 10 June 1938, under the eyes of the Gestapo. His wife, Theresa (“Tess”) Stiberitz, an Austrian photographer, had given birth to a child in February via Caesarean. Afterward, she had had phlebitis and had been critically ill. She had not come home from the hospital until April. In June she was still bandaged, and Shirer, who had already panicked when she had almost died and had watched the progress of her illness, feared infection if the bandages were tampered with.
You can read the story here: William L Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 (Johns Hopkins Press, 2002).
What is so intriguing about this story is that it reads like current events. Which should make all of us suspicious. Are we living in a police state? Yes. How long will it take for people to wait up? Probably not until it happens to them.
Copyright © 2011 Alexandra Lee