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Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times investigative reporter whose mother and grandparents fled Germany in 1938 for France, where, as Jews, they spent four years as refugees, the last two under risk of Nazi deportation. In 1942 they made it onto the last boat to escape France before the Germans sealed its harbors. Then, barred from entering the United States, they lived in Cuba for almost two years before emigrating to New York. This sweeping account of one family’s escape from the turmoil of ...
Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times investigative reporter whose mother and grandparents fled Germany in 1938 for France, where, as Jews, they spent four years as refugees, the last two under risk of Nazi deportation. In 1942 they made it onto the last boat to escape France before the Germans sealed its harbors. Then, barred from entering the United States, they lived in Cuba for almost two years before emigrating to New York. This sweeping account of one family’s escape from the turmoil of war-torn Europe hangs upon the intimate and deeply personal story of Maitland’s mother’s passionate romance with a Catholic Frenchman.
Separated by war and her family’s disapproval, the young lovers—Janine and Roland—lose each other for fifty years. 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.
Nine months after the family’s arrival in Gray, despite dwindling public transportation, the Rosengart still sat parked on the street with no one to drive it. Aunt Marie had repeatedly urged Janine and Trudi to learn to drive, but after only two lessons, they gave up, both preferring to spend their time with the Éclaireuses or French Girl Scouts, rolling bandages for the army. The sisters jumped at the chance of being included when Mayor Lévy’s granddaughter asked them to join, and they were proud to help fight the Nazis. Besides, the small car regularly stalled, and they were embarrassed to have to climb out and crank it; and as neither Sigmar nor Alice knew how to drive, the girls failed to see any reason why they should, either.
Now, having no other recourse, trying to imagine what Sigmar would do to escape from Gray, Alice sought out Monsieur Fimbel. The plan devised by Marie—counting on her daughter-in-law’s resourcefulness to save them—involved meeting up with Lisette and her children in Arnay-le-Duc in Burgundy and then for them all to flee south together. Monsieur Fimbel agreed to take them that far, but said he would have to rush right back to Gray to be at the helm of his school when the Germans invaded. There was no time to tarry! He would drive Alice, Marie, and Bella in his own car and recruit one of his teachers to drive the Rosengart with Janine and Trudi. Assuming there was gasoline to be had, he counseled, they would undoubtedly find some other refugee in Arnay-le-Duc more than willing to serve as their driver. At worst, down the road, the car being valuable, they could use it to barter for other assistance.
The five women packed a small suitcase each and closed their door on everything else. Before leaving, Alice paused to write Sigmar a note in the event he escaped from Langres and got back to Gray before she did:
We are going with Marie and Bella to join Lisette in Arnay-le-Duc and hopefully will move south from there. God willing, we will try to come back here as soon as we can. I beg of you, please take care of yourself!
Gruss und Kuss. Greetings and Kisses,
The next few days’ travels made the trip from Mulhouse to Gray when war was declared the previous fall seem like a casual family outing. Their first stop, Arnay-le-Duc, northwest of Beaune, was a trip of just a few hours, which they made on back roads to avoid running into German divisions. They arrived to bedlam in the historic main square, filled with soldiers and refugees all in confusion and terror over what to do next. But in the midst of the crowd they found Lisette, who had shrewdly sized up the situation and instantly grasped that under the circumstances, it was chacun pour soi, each for himself, and they had to be sharp to seize the advantage.