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Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed Hardcover – April 17, 2012
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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.
A Look Inside Crossing the Borders of Time
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
My wife thought it was very good, could have been better written, but solid and an interesting storyPublished 3 days ago by Jeffrey G. Smith
I really loved this book. The author has tremendous talent to present this story the way it deserved. She really did justice to her family. Read morePublished 1 month ago by BushWoman
I really liked this story of a Jewish family's escape from Europe, just in the nick of time before all escape became impossible, intertwined with a story of first love and... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Eva Melusine Thieme
I really enjoyed Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland. We all know a great deal about the German occupation of France during the second world war but this book shares a... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Lucy Krasnor
A surprising story which I liked very much. Well written, well thought out and researched. I was surprised by the liberties taken by the author in pursuing her mother's story. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Ellen Legg
Even though this true life story was fascinating, it was a bit overwritten---you could almost hear Leslie Maitland's mother's voice behind every descriptive phrase---Editing was... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Nancy C Wilson