“Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile and Love Reclaimed” is the account by journalist Leslie Maitland, formerly of the New York Times, of the life of her mother, Janine Gunzberger Maitland. It is perhaps more history than biography.
Leslie Maitland grew up, she says, listening to her Jewish mother Janine’s terrifying stories about her childhood in Germany. Janine’s father, also Jewish, had been a prosperous business-owner in Freiburg before the war, but lost everything to discriminatory anti-Semitic taxes and property confiscation. The family fled the Nazis in 1938, and the five-year odyssey of Sigmar and Alice Gunzburger and their three children, Norbert, Janine and Trudi began.
In 1942, on a pier in Marseille, Janine, an 18-year-old German-Jewish girl, says farewell to Roland Acieri, a 21-year-old French Roman Catholic and her first love. The cultural and religious differences between them are significant, but they have vowed to marry. The cargo ship is one of the last ships allowed to leave Marseille as it carries Janine and her family away from occupied France, she reads the 12-page farewell letter Roland has given her. Two weeks after the family’s departure, the deportation of Jews begins.
Five years later, Janine’s dreams of marrying Roland have died, obstructed both by the war and by her father, who has intercepted and hidden her fiance’s letters. Janine’s father, who strongly disapproves of the relationship, is a significant force in its failure.
Janine begins a new life with an American husband, Leonard Maitland, though she never ceases to mourn her lost love. The author, through her research and travels, learns that Roland is living in Canada. In 1991, almost 50 years after they last saw each other, Janine and Roland are reunited.
As a reporter, Leslie Maitland says, she faced some professional issues that led to her changing the names of a number of individuals who figured in the story. The book is a meticulously researched historical portrait of Jewish life in Germany, in occupied France, in a Cuban detention camp, as well as the refugee community in New York City. The author verifies sources, names, places and events to tell a poignant, true story that does, indeed, cross the borders of time.