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Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed [Kindle Edition]

Leslie Maitland
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (204 customer reviews)

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Book Description

   On a pier in Marseille in 1942, with desperate refugees pressing to board one of the last ships to escape France before the Nazis choked off its ports, an 18-year-old German Jewish girl was pried from the arms of the Catholic Frenchman she loved and promised to marry.  As the Lipari carried Janine and her family to Casablanca on the first leg of a perilous journey to safety in Cuba, she would read through her tears the farewell letter that Roland had slipped in her pocket: “Whatever the length of our separation, our love will survive it, because it depends on us alone. I give you my vow that whatever the time we must wait, you will be my wife. Never forget, never doubt.” 
   Five years later – her fierce desire to reunite with Roland first obstructed by war and then, in secret, by her father and brother – Janine would build a new life in New York with a dynamic American husband.  That his obsession with Ayn Rand tormented their marriage was just one of the reasons she never ceased yearning to reclaim her lost love.  
   Investigative reporter Leslie Maitland grew up enthralled by her mother’s accounts of forbidden romance and harrowing flight from the Nazis. Her book is both a journalist’s vivid depiction of a world at war and a daughter’s pursuit of a haunting question: what had become of the handsome Frenchman whose picture her mother continued to treasure almost fifty years after they parted? It is a tale of memory that reporting made real and a story of undying love that crosses the borders of time.

Editorial Reviews Review

Essay by Leslie Maitland

“During the fall that my father was dying, I went back to Europe and found myself seeking my mother’s lost love. I say I went back almost as if the world my mother had fled and the dream she abandoned had also been mine, because I had grown to share the myth of her life.”

With these opening words, I invite readers on a tumultuous journey to times and places whose misty imaginings had been with me always. Gripped by my mother’s accounts of love, persecution, war, and escape, I embraced the mission to pass them on to a new generation. But as a journalist, I felt compelled to ground memory in history. I needed to be able to state with assurance, for myself as well as my readers: this is what happened. And so I set out to explore the terrain of the past and recreate a world that was gone.

Confronting Hitler’s dread transformation of Europe is no simple matter, and nowhere more complex, perhaps, than in France. Pursuit of the facts sent me on five trips there, as well as to Germany, Canada, and Cuba. Over the years I spent delving through archives and into a period that must not be forgotten, my scope enlarged to include those whose lives intersected my mother’s, many of whom did not survive to tell their own stories. As a result, I came to believe that the context in which my mother, Janine, and her true love, Roland, had found, adored, and lost one another was essential to understanding their passion.

Beyond that, compared to the hellish suffering inflicted on millions under the Nazis, the thwarted love of two young people was something I wanted to keep in perspective. As Rick insisted to Ilsa in the 1942 film Casablanca, speaking of their own anguished love triangle: “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Losing Roland felt like a death to Janine in 1942, but her escape on a ship sailing from France at the eleventh hour placed her among the most fortunate few in that era of terror. And so my aim was to weave the golden thread of their romance through a broad and vivid historical canvas.

Crossing the Borders of Time brought me face to face with “characters” I had long known through my mother’s stories. Several, confused by my physical likeness to a younger Janine they still remembered, unwittingly helped to foster an uneasy sense that I had slipped through time and was somehow reliving my mother’s experience. Others have contacted me since the book’s publication to add their own postscripts. With news articles about the book appearing in Germany, I have received surprising messages filled with reminiscences, regrets, and kind wishes.

A man of 80, for instance, recalled the alarming first sight of his own father weeping in 1938 – his grief prompted by learning that his generous Jewish employer, my grandfather Sigmar, was fleeing the country. “Maybe it is good for you to know that during the horrible years of the persecution of Jews,” he wrote, “some people felt and suffered with you.”

From outside Berlin, a woman emailed to say that the Wehrmacht soldier described in my book as having proposed marriage to Janine in 1940 in order to save her from Hitler had actually been a member of her family! “Just think,” she mused, “had circumstances been different and had your mother fallen for him, we could be related today.” Still more wrote simply to thank me and to recount their own stories of heartbreaking loss and of seeking new lives and fresh purpose in strange places.

It is an irony of time and technological progress that unknown readers have been able to reach me and share such personal contacts. Janine and Roland – separated through no fault of their own – were obliged to make hard compromises. My own life is a consequence of their painful rupture. I am grateful that in pursuing their story I could help to shape the way that it ended. Review

A Look Inside Crossing the Borders of Time

Janine and Trudi
On the right, Janine Maitland with daughter Leslie; on the left, Janine’s sister Trudi with daughter Lynne

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Alice Heinsheimer
Alice Heinsheimer, Janine’s mother, before her marriage in Germany in 1920

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Roland at Lyon Bridge
Roland Arcieri, Janine’s love, in Lyon, France, 1942

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Carte D'Indentite
Janine’s official identity card from Gray, France, 1939

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Product Details

  • File Size: 6877 KB
  • Print Length: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (April 17, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005EH3EPW
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,379 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
134 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love Survives the Horrors of Nazi Europe April 18, 2012
Maybe I'm being chauvinistic, but as a reporter since 1966, I've long believed that news people make the best writers. Think Ernest Hemingway, honing his writing and reporting skills at the Kansas City Star and the Toronto Star. And think Leslie Maitland, a prize-winning former investigative reporter for the New York Times whose "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed" is a panoramic work of nonfiction that I believe Hemingway would have been proud to put his name on. The book has the power of "War and Peace," the movie "Casablanca" and the romanticism of "Doctor Zhivago" -- reading like a novel but with the resonance of reality.

Maitland used all the skills she acquired as reporter to tell the story of how her German Jewish mother, born Johanna Gunzburger in Freiburg, Germany, in 1923 managed to flee the Nazi killing machine in 1938, with her father, mother, sister and brother, landing first in Mulhouse, France, moving as the Germans defeated the French in June 1940, finally leaving on the last ship out of Marseille, France in 1942 before the harbors were sealed.

Barred from entering the U.S. due to an indifferent FDR administration and an actively anti-Semitic State Department under Cordell Hull, the Gunzburger family -- father Samuel Sigmar Gunzburger, a German Army WWI veteran, his wife Alice, their daughters Gertrude (Trudi) and Johanna (later Janine) and their son Norbert -- spent more than a year in a Cuban detention camp before finally securing papers allowing them to move to Miami and later New York City.

As a child, Leslie learned of her mother's first love, called Roland Arcieri in the book, a French Catholic who tried to contact Janine when she was pregnant with the future investigative reporter.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars super memoir April 17, 2012
German Jew Janine loved her life in Freiberg. However, in 1938, the Nazis forced fifteen year old Janine and her family to flee across the border settling in Mulhouse, France. There she met her first love nineteen year old Catholic law student Roland Arcieri. Her family fled to Gray and then Lyon as the Nazis annex Alsace Lorraine. In 1941 in Lyon she and Roland meet again and remain attracted to one another. One year later, Janine and her family flee to Marseilles and then America. Unbeknownst to Janine, her father and brother insured she would not meet Roland again as they intercept his letters. Janine marries a philandering Ayn Rand advocate and one of their children Leslie Maitland supported by her brother Gary and her husband Dan begins the odyssey of finding her mom's first love who lives in Montreal.

This is a superior memoir with an intriguing quest in which the vividly harrowing descriptions of the Jewish plight during WWII overshadow the forbidden love affair and the failed marriage. Timely with the insight into refugee displacement and exile due to war, this is a triumph of love and survivor though it took five decades for the former to catch up to the latter.

Harriet Klausner
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant study of a family and the times... April 29, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Leslie Maitland's "Crossing the Borders of Time" is a superb book about the fluidity of family, love, and home. Maitland, a former NYT reporter, has written about her mother's family and the physical journey the took from Germany into exile and the memories - both positive and painful - they took with them. And she writes of their new life in the United States, where they brought those memories and connections.

Maitland's book actually covers several subjects - the life in Germany and then France in the run-up to WW2 - as well as how the Gunzburger family made their way in perilous times and conditions to the United States via north Africa, with a short stay in Cuba. The book continues with their post-war life, including Leslie's parents' difficult marriage, which was plagued by infidelity; her mother's continued yearning for the love of her life, a young Catholic man she left behind in France and by her father's physical infidelity with several women and by his emotional one with the teachings of author Ayn Rand.

Maitland's book covers so much territory and all of it painted with a deft hand. One of the most interesting parts to me is her telling of returning to Germany and France with her parents in the early 1990's. They returned to the cities of Freiburg in Germany where her mother was born in 1923 and raised until the 1930's when the family fled to the (perceived) safety of Mulhouse, France. (Maitland covered the trip in a series of articles for the NYT, which I vaguely remember reading and thinking they were interesting. I didn't think I'd be reading 20 years later a book about the family.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Storytelling at its Best April 23, 2012
I'm not done with the book yet, but I'm about halfway through and I'm perfectly keen on writing this review before I finish it because it's absolutely amazing. A can't-put-it-down kind of read, which I attribute to the author's background as an investigative journalist. I find that journalists make the best book authors, because their talent is simply stretched out over hundreds of pages rather than across a broadsheet.

The book tells the true story of the author's maternal ancestors and their experiences prior to, during, and after the Holocaust. The family hails from the fine line between Germany and France, Maitland's mother grows up bouncing back between two worlds until they are no longer welcome in France as Germans and no longer welcome in Germany as Jews. Their journey from Europe to Cuba and on to the U.S. is harrowing, shocking, and Maitland describes it in vivid detail. And the entire story is told through a lost-love narrative between Maitland's Jewish mother and her Alsatian Catholic love. A few times I had to stop and sit back to remind myself that Maitland herself wasn't there; her storytelling is that good.

I've learned some shocking things about the experience of Alsatians, French and German Jews, and those caught between France and Germany during Hitler's reign. Did you know that when the Nazis went to France, they basically walked straight in to Paris without firing a shot? That they turned the clocks of France to German time? (So much for time zones, eh?)

Also: There are some outstanding pictures and documents in this book, thanks to Maitland's family's penchant for holding on to important, meaningful family paperwork. It really makes the story come to life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What a beautiful but also so sad a story
Having grown up in this part of the world
In the 1950tis it brought many memories back. What a beautiful but also so sad a story
Published 3 days ago by Wolfgang
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of the best books I have ever read.
Published 4 days ago by Barbara Puchner
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful, heart rending story. Loved every minute of it. Well written and enthralling.
Published 5 days ago by S. P.
5.0 out of 5 stars It is perhaps the most beautiful story of romantic love lost this...
Leslie Maitland has written a memoir that will stand the test of time. It is perhaps the most beautiful story of romantic love lost this reviewer has ever read. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Chervis Isom
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book!
One of the best books I ever read. Really takes you on a magical journey and you feel like you've traveled back in time! I will happily re-read over the years! Read more
Published 1 month ago by Emily G.
5.0 out of 5 stars Maitland did a terrific job with a true life story
Maitland did a terrific job with a true life story. I had a hard time putting the book down.
A great read.
Published 1 month ago by D.E. Griffin
4.0 out of 5 stars A account of one families journey from Germany during the 30s/40s.
I've been reading the novels of Alan Furst, "Night Soldiers", "Dark Star" and this book came up for my book club. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Member of a Book Club
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is a beautiful story which is very well written.
Published 1 month ago by susan alschuler
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wonderful love story.
Published 1 month ago by lucy
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Really enjoyed the depth of detail in this book.
Published 1 month ago by Lilly
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More About the Author

Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times investigative reporter and national correspondent who covered the Justice Department. She appears regularly on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR to discuss literature. She lives with her husband in Bethesda, Maryland.

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