This is a marvellous story about two boys, Frici and Istvan, on Jewish and one Catholic, living in the same town in Romania when World War 2 breaks out and changes their lives and that of their families forever. The families crossed paths in their town before the war, and miraculously meet each other again in Australia after many years in a way that sees them linked forever.
The story spans three generations, and the writer, daughter of Frici, vividly brings the story to life as she follows her characters chronologically, first one family and then the other, through all the twists and turns. There is humour, but there is much darkness too. Frici’s father says, as war ends, “Even now, the naïve don’t understand that although the war is over, another one has begun”. As Stalin exerts his stranglehold in ever increasing ways on the people of Romania, Frici’s family is forced to escape, but he and his brother are separated from their parents for some years before being reunited in another continent. Istvan from the Koenig family is forced to work for some years in a Russian labour camp, eventually able to make his way with his brother to Australia.
Life in Australia is good for the families, but war and the post-war experiences in Communist Romania have left their marks. This is a triumphant story, one that is ordinary on one level as it has been repeated by so many that have sought refuge on Australia’s shores, but extraordinary because the story of triumph over adversity, of hope against hope, and the striving of life over mere existence is extraordinary.
“With Just One Suitcase” is a great story and provides a view into the experiences of immigrants, an insight into what happened to many Romanians through the war, as well as being the story of a family.