Jerzy Krol still is bewildered by the sudden change in his life. He is not sure about where he wants to go or what he wants to do. But he is certain of one thing: He would never go back to Poland.
"The [Communist] Party there is everything," said Krol, 30, a tall, blond, electronics technician. "It tells you when to stand, when to sit, when to eat, when to go to work and when to go to sleep."
Krol (not his real name) admitted that he was exaggerating, but he then added; "But that is how I feel."
He said he could no longer cope with the feeling of being caged, so he, his wife and their 10-year-old daughter left their homeland as tourists and made their way to a cluster of old Army barracks on a tree-shaded street in this suburban community 15 miles south of Vienna.
The Krols are among the latest arrivals at Europe's biggest and oldest temporary haven for people who have fled, or were expelled, from their homelands -- the Traiskirchen refugee camp.
More than 30,000 men, women and children have passed through Traiskirchen since it was established in 1956 after the Hungarian uprising. They have come from 30 countries, mostly from Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and the other countries of Communist-dominated Eastern Europe but also from Jordan, Lebanon, Uganda, Turkey, Pakistan, Chile and other countries.
They include Christians, Moslems and Jews, individuals who left their homelands for religious or political reasons. Some came simply in search of a better job or education.
"They all have one thing in common," said Karl Radek, 61, the energetic director of the camp. "They want a new life, not only for themselves but also for their children. That is why we have so many couples with young children here."
Traiskirchen is not the only refugee center in Austria. A Red Cross camp in the Kaiser-Ebersdorf section of Vienna handles the heavy flow of Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel or the West. About 34,000 were received last year.
At the moment, Traiskirchen has about 2,000 refugees. Five hundred others are at four subsidiary camps, including Thalham near Salzburg where the first 60 of 500 Indochinese refugees that Austria has agreed to resettle have arrived.
Traiskirchen is the central fixture of an Austrian tradition, dating back several hundred years, as a way station for refugees from political or religious oppression.
"Because of our geography and the policies of the old Austrian emperors, millions of people came into the country, some to settle, while others continued on to other countries," Radek said. "This has not changed in recent years and will probably never change as long as there is political or religious oppression in the world."
At the time of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, about 200,000 Hungarians flooded into Austria. About half of them settled here. The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia 12 years later to crush an effort to liberalize the Communist government there, and thousands more poured into Austria.
The cost of maintaining Traiskirchen and the four subsidiary camps comes to nearly $8 million a year, a substantial sum for a country of 7.5 million people. Virtually the entire cost is borne by the Austrian taxpayer. At times of massive refugee arrivals, contributions are received from the United Nations and a number of relief agencies.
Many of the refugees arrive at the camp in their own cars during the summer, Radek said, pointing to several dozen Soviet and Eastern-European cars in the camp's parking lot. One of them, a Soviet-built Fiat, had the word "America" spray-painted in large letters on its side.
The influx has been especially heavy this summer, Radek said. Eastern Europe's chronic economic ills have been aggravated recently by steep increases in world oil prices that have resulted in shortages and higher prices for consumer goods.
The Krol family is typical of the Eastern Europeans who have fled to the west during the summer holiday season, Radek said.
Krol said that he and his wife decided last year to make the move, after Mrs. Krol lost her job as a technician for refusing to join the Communist Party. The incident, he said, was the last straw in the family's growing dissatisfaction with life under communism. They tried first to go to Sweden under the pretext of taking a vacation there. But Krol said that the authorities would allow only him and his wife to leave; their daughter had to remain behind -- in effect as a hostage to ensure the return of her parents.
Krol said that this year he obtained exit permits for the entire family by bribing a government official, ostensibly for a motor and sea trip to Morocco, via West Germany and France.
Krol said that immediately after crossing into West Germany the family applied for permission to remain there. But the West Germans refused, he said, and sent them on to Traiskirchen.
After clearing quarantine, refugees are free to leave the camp, either for visits or to take jobs. Family heads who have no job receive about $40 a week as pocket money. Those with jobs must pay a token $77 a month while at the camp.
"Those who want to stay in Austria have no difficulty," Radek said. "All who want to stay can stay. We would never send anyone back to where he came from."
Most, however, want to go to the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand. For them, the camp offers courses in English. It usually takes three to six months to get permission to go to one of these countries -- "far too long for our wishes," Radek said. "There are too many bureaucratic problems involved."
On of the major problems, he said, is the difficulty in finding sponsors for the refugees.
A refugee from Uganda, one of the thousands of Asian Ugandans expelled from the country in 1972, still has not found a sponsor. He has been in the camp for seven years, longer than any other refugee.
"I guess nobody wants him," Radek said.