Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed

Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed

by Leslie Maitland


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590514962
Publisher: Other Press, LLC
Publication date: 04/17/2012
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 289,385
Product dimensions: 6.34(w) x 9.18(h) x 1.58(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

   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. Perhaps it is common for children whose parents survived the Nazi regime to identify with them, to assume a duty to make their lives better. As my mother’s handmaiden and avid disciple in an oral tradition, I felt possessed by a history never my own. Still, not as yoked as she was to life’s compromises, I would prove more prepared to retrace the past and use it to forge a new future for her.

Time was running out on the present, and while my father grew weak in a lonely cave of silent bravado, it pained me to realize he would not even leave us the words that we needed. No deathbed regrets, explanations, or tears. An emotional bandit, he would soon slip away under shadow of night, wearing his boots and his mask.
When work as a journalist compelled me to leave New York for a week that October, I was anguished to lose precious time at Dad’s side. Yet how fast he would fade I failed to imagine. Nor could I foresee the course of my journey: that an impetuous detour to France from reporting in Germany would send me in search of Roland Arcieri—the man my mother had loved and lost and mourned all her life. Dreading my father’s imminent death and the void he would leave, I took a blind leap of faith into the past, dragging my mother behind me.

This is how one Sunday morning in 1990 I came to be visiting Mulhouse, a provincial French city just twelve miles from Germany’s Rhine River border. With cousins in town, I had visited Mulhouse twice years before. But on this crisp autumn day I was drawn toward a new destination: a fourteen-story, concrete and blue brick building whose boxy design represented what passed too often for modern in Europe. Although there was nothing about this unexceptional structure on a street densely shaded by chestnut trees to attract an American tourist, I instantly sensed that this was the place I needed to find. I stood at the spot—the X on a map to a treasure buried by time—torn by contradictory feelings. I ran a very real risk of discovering something better left hidden, yet I could not understand or forgive my failure to look here before.

An ache of remorse for all the lost years mingled with nervous excitement. Just up the stairs, I would finally learn what I had always wanted to know. Who was Roland? Where was Roland? What had happened to him in the near fifty years since the cruelties of war had stolen the girl he wanted to marry? I yearned to find my mother’s grand passion. Love for the dark-eyed Frenchman, whose picture she always kept tucked in her wallet, continued to pulse in her memory, the heartbeat that kept her alive.

Table of Contents

Map of the Günzburgers' Route of Escape through Occupied France, 1940-1942 xi

1 "What's Past is Prologue" 1

2 The Black Forest 8

3 Die Nazi-Zeit 30

4 The Sidewalk of Cuckolds 48

5 The Tattler's Stone 61

6 Gray Days, Phony War 80

7 Traveling Shoes 102

8 Occupied 117

9 A Telling Time 131

10 Crossing the Line 144

11 The Sun King 169

12 F'attendrai 184

13 A Time Out of Time 201

14 Darkness on the Face of the Deep 220

15 Incommunicado 250

16 Leben in Limbo 267

17 Hotel Terminus 282

18 The Lion and Miss America 303

19 Love Letters 326

20 From the Dyckman House to Our New House 342

21 The Other Woman 363

22 Atlas 380

23 Togetherness 399

24 Crossing the Border 413

25 The Agenda 424

26 MidiMoins Dix 442

27 A la Fin 459

Author's Note 479

Family Tree 486

Selected Bibliography 489

Photo Credits 493

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“One of those sweeping, epic, romantic novels that seems tailor-made for the Oscars and a long summer afternoon.  Except it’s real!  Leslie Maitland has the rare ability to bring history, adventure, and love alive.” —Bruce Feiler, New York Times best-selling author of Walking the Bible and Abraham

“How the small flame of an undying love can illuminate the darkness of a tragic era. This elegantly told story is for everyone." —James Carroll, New York Times best-selling author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem and Constantine’s Sword

“A mesmerizing memoir of one family's shattering experience during World War II.  It's a tale at once heartbreaking and uplifting.” —Linda Fairstein, New York Times best-selling author of Silent Mercy

“Not only original social history of a high order, but one of the most poignant love-lost, love-found stories I have ever read, with an ending that Hollywood wouldn't dare.” —Robert MacNeil, Journalist-author

“Maitland is a brilliant reporter who knows what questions to ask and how to get her story.  Written with the precision of a historian, the result is a work I could not put down and scarcely wanted to end.” —Michael Berenbaum, former director of the Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

“A love affair thwarted by war, distance and a disapproving family became the defining story of Leslie Maitland’s mother's life, and by extension, her own.  What happens next is surprising indeed.” —Cokie Roberts, NPR and ABC News analyst and author.

“A poignantly rendered, impeccably researched tale of a rupture healed by time.” —Kirkus Reviews

“This is a worthy testament to how war and displacement conspire against personal happiness.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“Maitland’s personal account of  her family is a major contribution to history interlaced with a lovely love story.” –Arts and Leisure News

“This is a fascinating story of thwarted love, longing, and the travails of one woman and one family within the broader context of war and persecution. Maitland includes a treasury of old family photographs and documents to enhance this incredible story of the gauzy intersection of memory and fact.” –Vanessa Bush, Booklist

“[Maitland] writes with a clear, candid journalist’s eye and manages to remove herself from the story, yet place herself into the narrative at the same time. [She] writes...with insight and honesty. She closes this noteworthy read with poetic understanding and gentleness.” –Jewish Book Council
Schindler’s List meets Casablanca in this tale of a daughter’s epic search for her mother’s prewar beau-50 years later.” –Good Housekeeping

“[A] gripping account of undying love-a tale of memory that reporting made real.” –Town & Country

Crossing the Borders of Time is more beautiful than a novel because of the power of its true story and the richness with which it is told.” –Neal Gendler, The American Jewish World

“A gripping true-life tale of victims of Nazi persecution and one survivor's quest for her lost love.” –Shelf Awareness

“Sometimes the truth is not “stranger than fiction” but more compelling than fiction, and that’s the case here.  Any reader who likes exciting World War II drama and a good love story will be drawn to this book. Well written and captivating, its story will stay with readers well after the book is finished.” –Library Journal
“An absorbing true account of romance, resilience, and survival during the years leading up to and during World War II, set against the backdrop of the Holocaust and the harrowing social history of mid-20th-century France.” –The Daily Beast

Crossing the Borders of Time will bewitch you. There is no fictionalized account of long-lost love that could be as compelling as this valentine to Leslie Maitland’s parents and the sad situations that threatened to ruin their moral compasses throughout their entire lives. Simply put, this is an unforgettable tale.” –Book Reporter

"Crossing the Borders of Time is a hair-raising tale of escape and survival, where crossing a border means everything. But sometimes, in this complicated world of loss, change and missed opportunities, it is just as amazing that love can make it across the biggest border of all: the border of time. Highly recommended." -American Girls Art Club in Paris

"The author makes fine use of her journalistic skills to conduct the search and to write about it, producing a narrative that is both informative and electrifying. History and the family saga combine in an informative and heart-warming tale that grips the reader's attention." -Indianapolis Jewish Post & Opinion

Reading Group Guide


What was the impetus that began Leslie Maitland’s search for her mother’s long lost lover? Do you have any unanswered questions about your family’s past?


How are Roland and Leonard different from each other, and how does Janine’s memory of Roland affect her relationship with her husband? Do you think she shared too much information with her husband and her children about her romantic past? Were Leonard’s infidelities a reflection of his character or the mores of the times; or were they a bid for attention from Janine, or even an effort to retaliate for Roland’s persistent shadow in their marriage?


Crossing the Borders of Time is deeply rooted in WWII history and the Holocaust. How does Leslie Maitland use Janine’s story to reflect the differing attitudes toward the rise of Nazism, anti-Semitism, and various other prejudices? Did you learn anything about WWII history that you didn’t know before?


In 1989, the Maitland family returned to Freiburg, where Jewish former citizens were invited to return to their birthplace. What do you think about this attempt at reconciliation or atonement? What did you think of their encounters on this and later trips with figures from the family’s past?


How does Leslie Maitland’s background as a New York Times investigative reporter help her tell this story? Do you think a reporter is better equipped than a novelist to write this kind of book?


After fleeing France, the Günzburger family was exiled and displaced in Cuba, before eventually gaining entry into the United States. How is this similar or different from other Jewish refugee stories that you’ve heard? Were you surprised to learn that the United States accepted so few refugees from Hitler-dominated Europe and that Leonard felt obliged to change his last name in response to anti-Semitism in American business circles?


What did you think of Janine’s relationship with her family – of her obedient decision to remain in New York after the war rather than return to France, and of her silent acceptance of Sigmar’s and Norbert’s efforts to thwart her marrying Roland?


Roland and Janine were separated and reunited through a mixture of historical and personal forces. How do you think their separation altered their perceptions of each other, and of love in general? How did you react to the difficult compromises that they made at the ending?  What solution to their situation would you have advised for them?

Customer Reviews

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Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Furtzmacher More than 1 year ago
The history is spot on. And more than most Holocaust era remembrances, this one weaves a narrative not just in the black and white of good and evil, but in the multi-hued texture of life in a world gone mad. The book ostensibly weaves an absolutely story of first love lost and re-found as it slipped from the protagonists grasp with Hitler's rise, occupation, deportation, emigration, immigration, and, eventually, love refound 60 years later on another continent. If it were a novel, it would be described as epic. But every word is true, so its best described as astonishing! The author brings a reporters sensibility to the facts, while bringing an almost cinematographic touch to the narrative. All-in-all, a great work of history, truth and narrative -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets optioned to Hollywood, too! Read it now, and get ahead of the curve!
Parsquire More than 1 year ago
This well researched biographical tale reads like a novel. It tells gripping the tale of the heroic escape of a young girl and her family from the Nazis in Germany and France and the ensuing 60 years in the context of lost love and the desire to find it again. I was heavily invested in the characters and felt like I knew them. I highly recommend the book and can't wait to see the movie!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leslie Maitland is a prize winning journalist who writes the history of her family as they must leave their home in Freiberg, Germany during WWII. Their journey takes them to France, to Cuba and ultimately to the United States. It is so beautifully written and gives such insight to what happens to Jewish families, their friends and loved ones who do manage to escape the brutality of the Nazi's. This family lost their business, their home, and so much more. Maitland's mother Janine leaves behind the love of her life, Roland. She marries Maitland's father Len who has a story of his own, but never forgets Roland and shares her stories with Maitland. The investigative reporting of this story results in this beautiful book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the pages of information about the dislocation of the Jewish population is interesting, it is not new, and others have presented better and more scholarly accounts. The love affair, which is billed as the central story, is basically non-existent. Very disappointing and not as advertised.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story of love lost and regained through the history of WWII and the US immigration of European Jews. A story whose information is quite timely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started to read this story because, as a first generation American descendant of German Jewish immigrants, there were many aspects of this story similar to that of my own family. However, I quit reading half way through because it got too mired in detail and history. I am not a history buff but I have always been drawn to stories about the holocaust because of my own background. My preference is stories that involve relationships and experiences and i thought this would focus much more on that. I just couldn't stick it through to get to the rest of the story. I found it redundant and difficult to read. However, it is an amazing an moving story about a tragic time, which is why I gave it 3 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great history lesson and love story.
JFrances More than 1 year ago
Powerful. While retrospect gives us 20/20, while in the throws of the present, decisions and behavior are not black and white. Anyone who has been through anything significant empathizes with the couple in love and their unfortunate timing. While the love story is always primary, the author does a magnificent job of detailing the horrors of the holocaust.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read a condensed version and although it was good it did not do it justice the original version was much better. Very interesting book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't read love stories but this one laid me flat out reading non-stop for two days. I just could not put it down. Leslie Maitland has done a spectacular job of relaying her family history. It is amazing that more people do not talk about the war. I remember a neighbor when I was a child who was a GI and how he never talked about it...even then I wanted information that never came. The realities of the suffering that people went through should be revealed. There are terrible web sites today that insinuate that the Holocost never happened, that it is a Jewish plot! There are young people out there that believe that. I am shocked that anyone sane would seriously think that way and that is why more stories like this need to be told.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the history details writen from a personal experience. As far as the love story, I thought the behavior was a little foolish. If Janine really loved Roland, she should have not let her family interfere. Once she decided on Len, she should have not discussed her other love. As to the later affair, 50 years later, while he is married, really stupid, going no where.
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StacieRosePittard More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this story. I gained so much history on a subject I thought I already knew so much about (the holocaust), while also enjoying a heartfelt (true) love story. This book is professionally written, easy to follow, and very, very interesting. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a book pack jammed with history, romance, and an interesting biography.
CathiMD More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful read!!! Well researched, hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great time-period read of love lost in WW II? Being a true story and seeing the pictures really made it more interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing true story. Some might not like all the detail, but it's amazing to me that the family kept so much fo the documentation!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago