153 of 157 people found the following review helpful
on 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. Janine -- she adopted the French name because of her love of France -- and her family had settled in Washington Heights, at the extreme northern tip of Manhattan. Now heavily Hispanic, Washington Heights was the home of so many German Jewish refugees during and immediately after World War II that it was ironically dubbed "The Fourth Reich."
Janine Gunzburger was so lacking in the stereotypical Jewish features that Nazi propagandists popularized that Mona, the blunt-spoken sister of her future husband, Leonard Maitland, remarked to the doctor for whom Janine was working "Too bad she's a shiksa [Gentile]. If she were only Jewish, I'd fix her up with my brother." Mona went on to describe Leonard -- born Friedman -- as a cross between "Gregory Peck, Gary Cooper and Cary Grant." In the complicated world of Judaism, Janine's parents at first objected to her future husband's Eastern European Jewish origins; German Jews considered themselves to be at the top of the pecking order.
A moving part of Leslie Maitland's memoir is her portrayal of her father, Leonard. He had served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, in wartime a branch of the military that sustained more casualties than any other service branch. In spite of this, Merchant Marine veterans were denied benefits under the G.I. Bill of Rights, including health benefits for people exposed to deadly asbestos on the ships. Trained as an engineer, Leonard Maitland was a Type-A hard-charging businessman who had a heart attack in his forties and died before his time of cancer -- he was born in 1918 and died in 1990.
Maitland encouraged his daughter in her pursuit of higher education and was so proud of her career at the New York Times that he carried clips of her stories in his wallet and showed them to everybody. The realistic portrait of Leonard Maitland includes his daughter's account of his love of Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophy -- which she calls a "cult" -- and his womanizing. It's apparent that Len Maitland, who modeled himself on Howard Roark in Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", resented the role Roland Arcieri played in his wife's life and even initiated a "tearing up party" (Page 315) where Janine was coerced into tearing up photographs of Roland and love letters from him. The author says her mother had made the "selfish mistake" of telling her new suitor Leonard about "his past rival, a confession with permanent impact on the course of their marriage." The author is nothing if not brutally honest about the details of the lives of her mother and father -- a mark of a good reporter!
I noticed that Maitland has included in the bibliography Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's best-selling "Hitler's Willing Executioners" (Knopf, 1996), about ordinary Germans who went along with the murderous anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany. I read and reviewed the book when it was published and I thought it explained many details glossed over in the post-World War II rehabilitation of Germans and Germany, as well as the countries, like Vichy France, that collaborated with the Nazis. Maitland also includes accounts of "ordinary" Germans and French who defied the Germans and their collaborators in Vichy France to save Jews from the death factories.
She also chronicles the reconciliation visits where German cities, including Freiburg, hosted their exiled former residents. The receptions were almost uniformly friendly, yet one major exception, she writes, was the Glatt family, the Gentiles who acquired Sigmar Gunzburger's prospering home supply firm in the forced "Aryanization" that led the Gunzburgers to flee Germany. The Glatts stated in their brochures that the multi-office firm was "founded" in 1938 -- the year Sigmar was forced out of the firm he had founded with his brother Heinrich in 1919, on his return from the war. Freiburg's synagogue -- consecrated in 1885 -- was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938 and had been replaced with a modern structure, but the "reconciliation" visits were marred by desecrations of the city's Jewish cemetery.
A particularly moving passage in "Crossing the Borders of Time" occurs 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, the 18-year-old Janine was pried from the arms of Roland, a man 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." Fans of the 1942 movie "Casablanca" will relate to the scene, comparing it to the scene where Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart, waits in the rain in Paris for Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) as he makes his escape by the last train out of beseiged Paris.
Fifty years after the Marseille events, Leslie's efforts reunited the widowed Janine and the married -- for the second time -- Roland, now living in Montreal, Canada. It is a testimony to both Maitland's investigative skills and her devotion to her mother that she successfully traced the lost Roland and was able to reunite him with Janine. Unlike so many stories of love during wartime, theirs has a happy ending.
56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
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.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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.) As the family traveled, they returned to the places of Janine's childhood and met friends and family - both Jewish and Christian - who had survived the war years and had had to come to terms with the Nazi era and whatever part they played in those years.
Some of the "reunions" were happy ones and some were sad. They saw the business that Janine's father had to turn over to Nazi-approved Christian ownership when they left Freiburg for France and how the "Jewish past" had been erased in the company's history. They visited the house they owned in Freiburg - originally standing next to a hotel - and toured it. The house had been divided into apartments after the war, and in one of the apartments, they met one of Janine's childhood Christian playmates. The woman, Rosemarie Stock, whose family had owned the hotel next door, was not glad to see her old friend, returned to Germany for what reason? Did she want the family house back? Rosemarie rather querulously informs Janine that her father had paid Janine's father "good money" for the house back in the 1930's. ("Good money" at the time was a pittance of the true worth of the house.) Rosemarie also proudly showed the Maitland family the picture of her in full Deutche Maiden regalia, hanging on the living room wall. BUT what was impressive to me as a reader of 20th century history, was the attitude of Stock's SON. Born after the war, Michael Stock was one of the postwar generation of Germans who studied and learned from the horrors of the Nazi era. I have read about and met members of this generation - MY generation - and have been impressed about the soul-searching they've done to understand and not repeat the past. So we have the Maitland family meeting the two divergent generations of Germans - the Nazi-sympathising mother and her son, who has seemed to learn the lessons of the past.
Maitland's book covers so much more than I've written above. Returning to Germany and France on reunion trips is only a small piece of it. She fearlessly looks at her parents' difficult marriage but writes about the improbable love between the two. And, she writes about the love of her mother's life - "Roland Acieri" - the Frenchman she left behind in Marsailles in 1942 but never forgot. I am not saying any more on the subject...
Leslie Maitland has written a book that looks at the generations of Jews - and some Christians - and how families form and tear-apart through the years. It is a brilliant book. And reading it reminds me of another book on much the same subject, Donald Katz's "Home Fires", the study of one family in post-war America. An epic picture of a family in joy and distress, it is out-of-print, but available on Amazon. Buy Maitland's book, and buy Katz's book, if you're interested in truly learning about 20th century families.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 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.
If you appreciate a good storyteller, if you appreciate history, if you appreciate love lost and found, then I definitely suggest you find a copy of this book and get to it. It's hard to put down, I guarantee you that, so make sure you find a long, nice day to curl up outside with the book and some coffee.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2013
In this book, I see two separate stories.
One focuses on the escape of a Jewish couple and their daughters from Germany and France, with the contrast of many friends' and relatives' stories. What differences in judgement, information, contacts, and luck will lead to escape or to the death chambers? For those who escape, what is their life like, how are their families and subsequent choices influenced by their actions in a short critical period in 1943? How will they experience post-unification Germany?
I think that the author, a reporter, would have done a good job with this factual story.
The second story is of an obsessive love of a teenager for her boyfriend of one summer, of their separation when her family is forced to flee, of their attempts to find each other.
Based on reviews here, many readers wanted one story or the other. For me, the "love" story inserted blobs of schmalz into the history, constantly reminding us that Janine does not see the war or the problem of the Jews, she is just heartbroken at her separation. Over and over. And with uncomfortable details of their intimate encounters. And over. Did I mention it is repetitious?
If you'd prefer the love story, you may have another problem. You might be bored and impatient with all the detail of their addresses in each town, side tales of brave Frenchmen who helped the local Jews, the legal finagling that allowed the Nazis to strip Jews of all their belongings.
You might also have a problem with the culmination of the "love" story. If I'd been in Janine's shoes and Roland called, I'd have said "Terrific! This is so exciting! Maybe you and your wife can come and visit my family and we can reminisce about old times."
SPOILER: Alas, that is not what happened, not even close. I am tolerant of almost all kinds of relationships as long as both parties are free and nobody is being betrayed and lied to. Here the lying is presented as a long-term (years) happy solution. Oh, they say, his wife is happier not knowing that her husband is living with another woman 25% of the time, pretending he is traveling on consulting business. Check out some of the one-star ratings for some of the more appalling parts, especially the encounter with Zack.
Finally, though the man's name is changed, the towns are all real and his picture at all ages is happily printed throughout the book. His field of work and home in Canada are are apparently given. I guess we just assume there is no one who will be hurt by this... or that we should not care.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2012
I downloaded the ebook after hearing Maitland interviewed on NPR. I think that this is the first time that just hearing short passages read aloud made be absolutely breathless for a book. This work kept me reading late into the night. I found myself worrying about Janine and her family and I understood the Holocaust as never before. The blend of biography, history, memoir, and love story coupled with the truly exemplary writing was captivating. The pictures and documents added a layer of texture which makes this book priceless. I homeschool my children and will be having my almost thirteen year daughter read this book as part of our studies. Thank you Leslie, for this book which I can honestly say will haunt my thoughts forever after. What a beautiful gift to Janine and Roland.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2012
I have read a lot of holocaust stories as well as non-fiction dealing with what for me is the great unfathomable event of modern times. A lot of people have written on this before, and many will in the future, so it is not easy to create something really original.
But Leslie Maitland has done it. Her book has many layers. On one level, it is the story of a well-to-do German family, some members of which survived the holocaust and others of which did not. The combination of foresight, perseverance and luck that blessed the subject part of her family was not unique, and reading about it leaves one in awe of many who surmounted the daunting obstacles to survival and, indeed, prosperity. I am often amazed that so many survivors could overcome their psychic and physical wounds and go on to lead productive "normal" lives.
On another level, the book is moving love story for the ages about Janine and Roland. What's especially great about this part of the narrative is that when the author relates what the principal actors were saying and feeling, she is not speculating, but speaking from actual knowledge. Thus, the compelling story is not novelized but uniquely immediate. Maitland described this well in recounting how her mother told her stories in bed at night: "The unraveling of history was far, far, better than any Million Dollar Movie, and I relished all my mother's stories, knowing that they were real." And it is very satisfying to know our author's role in the happy ending for the two lovers. It helps that she is a gifted writer and journalist.
There is also a narrative as to how Maitland's mother came to be the person she is, which starts before the rise of Hitler in the relationship with her parents and siblings (whom the author knew and describes so clearly), is influenced by Roland and of course continues through her French, Cuban and American years. These many strands of experience, combined with her innate abilities and character traits, resulted in a complex, interesting person whom I wish I had known.
Finally, there is the narrative of Maitland's father's life, which the author presents with journalistic objectivity for the most part. But at the end, it seems to me that this book is a love letter to the author's father as well as to her mother, even though it might not have started out that way. While Maitland's father caused her mother and herself much pain, he also loved the author unconditionally, and taught her many important lessons that have evidently served her well over the years. Thus, the book turns out to be one about forgiveness and reconciliation, not just between Germans and Jews, but among family members as well.
Although my feelings reading the book cannot easily summed up - they are feelings after all - I was particularly touched by the following question that Maitland poses in the book: "[D]id it take a world of turmoil, of loss and then recapture, to treasure properly the people we mean to hold most dear?" Does it always?
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2012
Rush to buy Leslie Maitland's wonderful book. As a die-hard fiction reader, I wasn't sure that I'd like this non-fiction memoir. But because Leslie Maitland is a fabulously talented writer, the book told a story that kept me mesmerized and I didn't want it to end. Maitland's research is exemplary in describing how Jews managed to save themselves from the impending Nazi occupation. And the love story of her mother and long-lost love is completely engaging and dear. This is the best work of non-fiction I've read in many years and I salute the author for telling such a compelling story. I hope it becomes a movie! I see Meryl Streep playing Janine, Natalie Portman playing Leslie and Hugh Laurie playing Roland.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2013
I can't believe that so few people actually saw how creepy & wrong this book was.
Here's the problem that I have with this book. While her father lay dying, the author chose to leave his side to go to Europe so that she can track down her mother's "one true love." While she says she was "anguished to lose precious time at her father's side", finding his "replacement" is more important as she is trying to "forge a new future" for her mother.
Her father was a difficult man, but only as a throwaway afterthought does she consider the fact that her father's life may have been made more difficult because his wife was in love with another man, even carrying his picture in her wallet her whole life.
The author is worried about bringing potential bad news regarding her lost boyfriend to her mother while her father lay dying.
The mother had waited 50 years longing for her lost love. Waiting the few months until her husband actually passed would not have been a big deal. Keep in mind, the mother didn't request for the author to do this, and in fact didn't even know that her daughter was pursuing her long ago lover.
While in one breath the authors worries about betraying her dying father, who she claims to still love despite their conflicts, she leaves him anyway to go search for his replacement.
Then the author thinks is nifty that her mom & the lost love carry on a sexual relationship regardless of the fact that the man is married with a 13 year old son.
It's all wrapped up with the lost love telling his 13 year old son that it's okay to cheat on his wife since he had hooked up with an old love & then the daughter going into creepy detail about her mother's sex life with this guy.
Tacky, uncaring, wrong.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2012
Those of us who grew up in the wake of the German terror in Europe lived tenuously in our parents' new world, and we shared with them the displacements that came with them in their flight. Their nightmares and pain became ours, their loss left us feeling cheated.
Unlike many of the survivors who became our parents, Leslie Maitland's mother Hanna/Janine Günzburger, whose story is the subject of Maitland's remarkable book Crossing the Borders of Time, was generous with her memories. Maitland grew up ingesting details of her mother's life in Europe, the joys and the agonies that accompanied a childhood punctuated by frequent flights. As German-speaking residents of Alsace and Lorrain, they fled amid shifting, enmity-defined borders, eventually forced out of Europe altogether, finding their way to the United States by way of a three-year sojourn in Cuba.
Maitland chronicles the exhilarating moments of her mother's delicious, feisty youth and first love as well as the disappointments, the upheavals, the ultimate devastation of losing everything. And in the wreckage, lay communication with Roland Arcieri, the love of Janine's life, the man she pledged to adore and promised to find when all the tumult subsided. He had vanished from her reach, and so began a lifetime of regretful longing for what might have been.
As her father lies dying, Maitland, a brilliant, seasoned, journalist, sets out on a journey to reconnect her mother to the man she loved first and loved best, and the quest to reunite the lovers embodies the universal pursuit of serenity that is the consequence of survival we all shared with and inherited from our parents. Her pilgrimage is illuminating,
It's easy, especially for the children of these survivors who were born into an America of plenty and of relative tolerance, to overlook the aftermath of the survivor's experience and forget that the great miracle of their having made it through disaster is only the first small step in a struggle for contentment. Having endured a tragedy and lived to tell the tale may be cause for gratitude, but it is also cause for years of self-reproach and self-doubt, of choices ruled by circumstances forged in the fires of hell. Survivors' guilt is a deep, multi-layered cloak they all bore without relief, and we rarely have the opportunity to examine its carefully-woven threads.
What makes Maitland's book so affective is the fact that she tells it with no manipulations. The emotion comes from the action, from the characters -- her real-life antecedants -- themselves, and it is honestly reported, forthrightly delivered. There is no whine of self-pity for any of her various subjects, only a persistent will to live on and to find happiness, whatever that may have been. In their desire for joy, the people in this book overcome multitudinous obstacles, but they never stop to question whether satisfaction is worth having. They keep on keeping on, and in that they are heroic.
There are few books about the time period called The Holocaust that so effectively describe life in the shadow of Hitler. And part of Maitland's effectiveness comes from the emotional restraint she exerts over every page. Like Thomas Keneally in Schindler's List, Maitland writes with unwavering objectivity, even when speaking of personal and deeply-felt family history.
Which gives the story a power and a glory all its own.