One Piece of Cheese Can Kill Ten Mice

I spoke to a Romanian sniper who manned a guard tower on the border during the reign of Nicolae Ceausesco, preventing Romanians from fleeing communism. He claims that he never shot anyone, though he knew that eventually an escapee would walk past his tower and he would have no choice but to shoot him. Unnerved by this prospect, he used what he had learned about the closure of the border to lead several men to freedom.

Here is what he learned:

  1. There are no roads across the border; that is what “closed border” means. The roads weave between sniper towers and then turn back into Romania.

  2. Sonar can hear swimmers. The shore of the river is unguarded because they will just come upon you in a boat and dash your brains out with an oar.

  3. Bring a clean pair of shoes. Once you make it across, there are spies looking for people with muddy shoes.

If a homeowner is plagued with mice, he might set a trap in the kitchen. Almost as soon as he turns off the light… SNAP!!! He throws the dead mouse away and, since it did not steal the cheese, he just cocks the spring, turns off the light and… SNAP!!! In this way, one piece of cheese can kill ten mice.

Similarly, the roads labeled “Serbia” and the unguarded river shore killed someone every night. Communism is a horrible thing and there are always people trying to escape. But just because communists are horrible people, one cannot assume that they are also stupid people. Like the homeowner with his mouse trap, they know how to kill ten men with one piece of cheese.

So did my friend make it? Obviously yes, or he could not have told me this. But it was not a complete victory. He told his followers to bring a clean set of clothes in a plastic bag, but only some of them included shoes. They sat for three days on a park bench waiting for their contact who would take them to Italy. The police came and grabbed the ones with muddy shoes, but did not say a word to the others. Those men were never seen again, but the ones with clean shoes met their contact the next day and made it to Italy and eventually to America.