Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with James D. Phillips
This was very exciting, more a lark than anything, and lasted until almost Christmas. We didn't do it every night, but frequently. Finally I asked the head of the Catholic relief group what happened to the people when they left the farmhouse. He said they went to holding centers and then to embassies where the were processed to go to various countries as refugees. They frequently choose the United States or Canada. I knew about the U.S. Embassy because I went there to get my GI bill check. So the next time I went I asked an embassy officer about the refugees. He said if I wanted to volunteer they needed people who could conduct initial interviews. There were lines of refugees stretching along the street in front of the embassy everyday. So I did that for a while. You are probably wondering how I got in any schoolwork, and the answer is that I did just enough to get the credit hours I needed to graduate.
I got to know some of the younger embassy officers. We would go out for a beer and I had the impression their jobs were interesting and rather fun.
Q: How did you interview these people and what were your impressions?
PHILLIPS: The embassy needed an American citizen to conduct the initial interviews. If the refugees spoke German I knew enough to handle that. Most of them did not speak German though so we used an interpreter. I would help the refugees fill out the basic forms and then send them on to a consular officer. I saw such an incredible variety of people. Sometimes you could tell you were dealing with a legitimate political refugee; other times it was less clear. Maybe a 32 year old man would say he had lost his papers, would claim he was a persecuted journalist but was vague about what newspaper he had worked for, and he would say “And oh, by the way, this is my niece,” who would be a 19 year old knockout who had also lost her papers. Maybe he had abandoned a wife and family to run off with his mistress, you didn't know. But what could you do? Send them back to Hungry? What I brought away from that experience was a sense of how repressive a communist regime could be, combined with a certain cynicism about human nature.
Q: Were any of the embassy officers telling you about the ForeigService?
PHILLIPS: No, we were pretty young and they were mostly bachelors and we talked about women and sports, but I thought their life style was appealing.
Q: What feelings did you get from the Austrian students?