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Like many children whose parents survived the Nazi regime in Europe, Leslie Maitland grew up with stories of her mother’s wartime experiences. In a new book the former New York Times investigative reporter retraces her mother’s life in Germany and occupied France. She escaped on the last refuge boat to leave Marseille before the port was closed. Her journey took her through Casablanca, Jamaica a refugee camp in Cuba, and finally New York. Left behind was her French Catholic fiance. Leslie Maitland describes how she decided to track down her mother’s lost love and how their lives changed after she found him.
- Leslie Maitland Former reporter for "The New York Times"
All images are courtesy of Leslie Maitland
Like many children whose parents survived the Nazi regime in Europe, Leslie Maitland grew up possessed by a history not her own. In a new book, she retraces her mother’s life in Germany and occupied France and the 11th-hour flight from the Nazis. She explains why she decided to track down her mother’s lost love and how their lives changed after she found him. Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times reporter and a frequent guest on our Reader’s Reviews.
“There Was Never A Time That We Did Not Know About Him”
Maitland, her family (including her father) and her mother’s friends all knew about Roland, her mother’s long-lost lover from Europe in WWII. Maitland’s mother and her family fled their town of Freiburg, Germany in 1938, for Malhouse, France. Her mother met Roland there for the first time. Initially, Roland was interested in a friend of Maitland’s mother’s, writing her love letters. Maitland listened to her friend read the letters and, as Maitland puts it, fell madly in love. But after war was declared in 1939, everyone fled from the area and scattered around for fear of the shelling, and Maitland’s mother, Janine, and Roland were separated after becoming close for a brief time.
Another Path Through Life
While the war raged on, Janine and Roland met again. The family got papers to move to Lyon, where it was safer, and there, Janine bumped in to Roland on the street. “He was there attending law school and she saw him on the street and all of her dreams came true,” Maitland said. But though Janine had dreamed of marrying Roland, the intervention of family, the war, and of circumstance prevented that and she ended up marrying an American – Maitland’s father. Maitland’s father insisted that Janine have a “tearing-up” party before they married, in which he made her destroy everything Roland had given her, including pictures and letters. She was able to save just two things – a photograph and a long letter from Roland. After her marriage, Roland tried to contact her, but Janine’s family kept her from knowing about it.
Meeting Again, Much Later
Janine did want to marry Maitland’s father, though. She had been separated from Roland for five years and had tried contacting him but had received no responses. It was she who persuaded he, after a first marriage of his, to marry her. Later, Roland came to visit her in New York, but she refused to see him for fear she would run off with him. many years later, when Maitland’s father was at the end of his life with illness, she sought Roland out herself. Maitland leaves it up to the reader to discover how Janine and Roland were reunited, but they did in fact end up together. Maitland makes it clear, though, that though her own father was strict and could be demanding, she wonders how his life might have been different had the “specter” of Roland not always been hovering in the background of his married and family life. In this sense, Maitland sees her father as just as much a victim of war as her mother and others had been.
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Like many children whose parents survived the Nazi regime in Europe, Leslie Maitland grew up possessed by a history not her own. In a new book, she retraces her mother's life in Germany and occupied France and the 11th hour flight from the Nazis.
MS. DIANE REHMShe explains why she decided to track down her mother's lost love and how their lives changed after she found him. Leslie Maitland is an award-winning former New York Times reporter and a frequent guest on our Reader's Reviews. The title of her new book is "Crossing the Borders of Time."
MS. DIANE REHMWe do invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Leslie, welcome.
MS. LESLIE MAITLANDWell, Diane, I cannot begin to tell you how much I've been looking forward to this moment.
REHMOh, I'm so glad. You and I have known each other for many years. You talked to me about this journey that you've been on. Talk about, as a young woman, the effect that your mother's stories had on you.
MAITLANDI would say a truly profound effect throughout my childhood. I grew up in an immigrant community in New York City called The Fourth Reich because there were so many German refugees from Nazi Germany in the neighborhood.
MAITLANDIt's an area of 168th Street and North and we particularly lived in the Inwood section. German was the language you heard on the street. My mother, of course, claimed that she was French. Everyone else was German, but she was French because she did not want to associate herself with what she regarded as the German legacy of that moment, post-war.
MAITLANDBut I grew up with her stories of escape, of strange places, of, you know, the other languages of just mystery, love, fear, everything and she told me these stories all the time to the point where there was a radio transmitter across the Hudson River in New Jersey that I always assumed was the Eiffel Tower because I saw it across the water and that must be what mommy is talking about. There it is.
REHMWhen did she first tell you about Roland?
MAITLANDI think, and my brother would agree with me, that there was never a time that we did not know about him. Everyone who knew her knew about him. Her friends, her family and indeed, my father knew about him.
REHMHow did she first meet Roland?
MAITLANDIn 1938, her family fled across the Rhine River from a very beautiful town called Freiburg in Breisgau. It's in the Black Forest. It's a famous university town in the warmest corner of southwest Germany, beautiful. I've been there now five times.
MAITLANDBut as the strictures on Jews and the persecution mounted, my grandfather, unable to obtain a visa to come to America, decided to cross the Rhine and go to Mulhouse in France. It was just a, oh, a trip of about a half an hour away and it was in Malhouse that she met Roland for the first time.
REHMAnd when they met, he was actually interested in her friend?
MAITLANDYes, and she watched from afar this tall, handsome young man with the eyes of a deer, she said, you know, soft, velvet, brown, sensitive. They had a habit in France in those days that every, I think it was Thursday afternoons, they would get off from school early and go to each other's homes, the girls. And this girl that Roland liked named Yvette would read his letters to the other girls and they would all giggle and laugh over Roland's protestations of love to this girl.
MAITLANDMy mother listened to these letters and fell madly in love.
REHMFell madly in love?
MAITLANDMadly, madly in love for the rest of her life.
REHMAnd then, they did come to together and she and Roland had wonderful times together?
MAITLANDThey did for an all too brief a period because they met in 1939 and very quickly thereafter, when war was declared in September of '39, when Germany invaded Poland, everyone, not just the Jews, but everyone living in that part of France in Alsace so close to the border with Germany, afraid of shelling, the entire population fled, fled West, fled South, everyone. Not just, as I say, the Jews, but long-entrenched French families, including Roland's family who fled as well. And each of their families fled to a different place and so they were separated until they met up again.
MAITLANDLater, later. She went to a town called Gray, which was not far from Dijon, a very small town of about 6,000 people which, when France fell, was immediately occupied by the German forces. Roland's family went to a town called Ville Franche, which was outside of Lyon and so they were separated. They had had a marvelous summer together in which she fell in love in the summer before they fled, which was in September of '39 and all too quickly it was over.
MAITLANDBut she had this memory of love, of just protection in the arms of a man who loved her and who she loved. She was a teenager but I think particularly at that time for young people growing up in Germany where the upbringing was strict, the parents were formal. There was a kind of distance between children and their parents and raised by a strict governess she found tenderness and closeness in that relationship that she had never known before.
REHMAnd yet still, while the war was still going on, they met again?
MAITLANDRight. Eventually Janine, my mother, was able to help obtain transit papers that enabled her family to cross over from occupied France where they had been living under the shadow of the Nazis, literally the German Commandant two doors away from their home in this town of Gray, two doors away with a swastika and a flag outside the door. They realized they had better get out of town and they eventually did and moved to Lyon.
MAITLANDWhen they got to Lyon, she and Roland bumped into each other on the street. He was there attending law school and she saw him on the street and all of her dreams came true.
REHMLeslie Maitland, her new book is titled "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed." There's a photograph on the cover of the book of your mother in her wedding dress. Her groom is concealed and that is your father?
MAITLANDYes, and it's a wonderful cover, I think. I do love the cover.
REHMI just adore it.
MAITLANDThe mystery of the cover is fantastic. The only thing I would have to say to the reader is they must promise me to turn to the very, very handsome picture of my father who is inside the book looking like a movie star and who, I don't want to see him slighted, but the mystery of the cover is fantastic because she is marrying an American, my father, whom she had not anticipated marrying.
MAITLANDShe had anticipated, dreamed of, longed to marry Roland and eventually intervention of family, of war, of circumstance prevented her from doing what had been her dream.
REHMLeslie, you thought about this story. You felt about this story that it was something you had to write. It took you years to do the research, to go into each of these towns to speak with people, to talk with people, to go into the neighborhoods where your parents, your mother and her parents and their friends and neighbors had lived. How long did you work on this book?
MAITLANDWell, actively, I would say, for a decade. And I'm very glad that you asked that question because this book, you know, could have been done in many different ways. It was my personal mission, as a former reporter, to ground this story in verifiable fact. There was no memory, no story my mother told me that I did not take as a starting point for research and then go back to the place, find witnesses, find documents, find, you know, letters or papers that would verify exactly what happened.
MAITLANDI wanted to be able to tell a story that I knew so well, that I could write it in a way that it sounded as if it had all the imagination and the reality, the verisimilitude, I should say, of a novel and yet would be so thoroughly grounded in fact that people would learn the history of these times and that the events would become all the more comprehensible by virtue of the complexity of the context historically.
REHMLeslie Maitland, former investigative reporter for The New York Times. Her new book is titled "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed."
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Leslie Maitland, who was for years an investigative reporter for The New York Times, decided to do an investigative story involving love and war and separation and guilt and all of those passions that so many people who fled Nazi Germany and the areas around Nazi Germany experienced. Her story is a very personal one involving her mother and a man she fell in love with at the age of 16.
REHMHer new book is titled "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile and Love Reclaimed." Leslie, read for us from the prologue of the book and set this up for us.
MAITLANDOkay. Well, the beginning of the book talks about my going to investigate my mother's story and how I have lived with a kind of mythologized image in my mind that played like a movie almost of my mother leaving France, leaving behind the true love of her life, a man with whom she repeatedly told me she would have been happy to spend her life in an attic if she had to rather than leave him. That she would've faced any dangers in Europe had she only been able to stay at his side, but her parents insisted that she escape Europe. It was at the last possible moment.
MAITLANDIt was in March of 1942 on what is believed to be the very last boat that was able to leave France before the Germans violated the armistice that they had worked out with Patton and what would be the French in which France had been divided into the occupied and unoccupied zone and eventually, in 1942, swept through the entire country, took control of all the ports and slammed the doors of immigration for all. So this was an incredibly fortunate last minute departure that could not have happened any later than it did or she would -- I would not be here, actually. She left on a boat from Marseille that went to Casablanca and from Casablanca to Cuba. And this was the version of the story that I first heard.
MAITLAND"The long ago hour when her family boarded a Lipari to flee a crazed Europe was one I so often made my mother describe that I virtually felt I had lived it. I had peered at a black-and-white photo of Roland in a small rented boat, a snapshot taken for her by a fellow passenger on the Lipari's deck, and I had wondered about him. On the back, neatly written were the words seul sur la mer, alone on the sea, and in the picture, Roland's thin face and angular features looked wooden, his expression as dark as the water around him. In a white shirt and tie and long overcoat, he appeared out of place in the nautical setting. Yet he was rowing behind the Lipari as it made its way from the peer, bearing 448 Jews past the rosy stone forts at the mouth of the city's Vieux Port and out past the lighthouse to the glimmering Mediterranean Sea.
MAITLANDIt was afternoon when the Lipari pushed away from the quai de la Joliette, the sun floating toward the horizon as the ship passed beneath the promontory where the stately 19th century (sounds like) pale du Pharo built by Napoleon III sits overlooking the water. There may have been dogs in the palace's park running free in the grass and lovers on benches enfolded in fervent embrace -- just as you see there today -- as boats of all sizes glided below, distant and toy-like, sails furled, motors purring, in and out of that pink twinkling harbor. Its beauty, with the vast open ocean rich with the promise of freedom, was entirely lost to Janine.
MAITLANDIn her arms, she clutched Roland's parting present, a fragrant bouquet of mimosas, tiny, cottony yellow flowers that he had brought to the pier. In some parts of France, wearing yellow flowers had become a sign of sympathy for Jews forced to attach yellow stars to their clothing to mark them as outcasts. But Roland's carried another, more personal meaning. Mimosas signify remembrance, he had whispered, his face in her hair, wild in the strong sea breezes, when he clasped her to him before she embarked. The sunlit scent of the flowers surrounded the lovers in a space of their own on the fear-laden dock, as refuges swarmed all around them and elbowed each other to cross the gangway toward safety.
MAITLANDWhen they parted, the bouquet seemed a token brought back from a dream and mocked her with all she had lost. And so turning to the railing in tears as the ship picked up speed, she dropped the stems one by one to the water, as if marking a luminous trail in the waves to find her way back to the man she adored. The flowers danced on the foam, drifted toward him and caught on his oars, but the Lipari soon left Roland behind, a speck on the water. The golden dots bobbed on the surface around him as he rowed back alone to the land and its war."
REHMAnd that was Leslie Maitland reading from her new book "Crossing the Borders of Time." Leslie, you said that your mother told you all of these stories. Did your father hear them, too?
MAITLANDYes. I think that my father was always aware of -- well, I know that he was always aware of Roland. In fact, they had what -- he required what he called a tearing-up party before they got married, in which he insisted that she bring out all of her letters and photographs of Roland and tear them up. He sat beside her with the box on the table and he insisted that she tear them all up. That night, everything went except for two things that she managed to slip behind the couch and dropped them to the floor to protect them from destruction.
MAITLANDOne of them was a picture of Roland. The other one was a 12-page letter that he had handed to her on the quai de la Joliette on March 13, 1942, a hand-written letter that he had composed in (word?) the night before in which he said that one day they would be married. That no matter how long it took, they would be together in the end and that he would wait for her always, she should wait for him. Never forget, he said. Never doubt. I will come for you. You will be my wife. And that letter, that 12-page letter, she saved and she showed me as she showed me his picture.
MAITLANDAnd very often whenever -- well, whenever my father was acting up, she would say, I guess I'm going to have to go and find Roland or something like that. And so we always knew about this man. And, well, to such an extent that, you know, when I eventually decided to go and find him, I did not need to ask my mother his last name. I knew his last name. I knew where to find him, or at least where to begin the search because there was almost nothing about him that I didn't know.
REHMAnd yet had he and your mother communicated over all those years?
MAITLANDNo, not at all.
REHMNot at all.
MAITLANDNo. His efforts to reach her had been intercepted. By the time that she...
REHMBy her parents?
MAITLANDBy her father. Her father had intercepted letters and a telegram from the International Committee of the Red Cross tracing service, that Roland had contacted the Red Cross to try to find her. While my mother was at work one day, her father had found this letter -- telegram and -- but of course like a good German, he did not destroy it. He hid it in his desk.
REHMThat's the other thing that absolutely amazed me about this book, Leslie. There are so many pieces of actual information, notes, photographs, memos, everything your family saved.
MAITLANDI would love to talk about that because that is really amazing.
MAITLANDMy grandfather had this little battered brown leather valise called his (word?) in which was stuffed documents, letters, his own first grade report card, marriage contracts from the 1800s, family trees, every letter and document that he had ever received from the Nazi government, transit papers, visas, applications. It was amazing, to such an extent that for as much as I, in the course of my research, traveled far and wide to every place that I described, some of my travels actually occurred at my very desk.
MAITLANDWhen, for example, one day I had a telegram in my hand from World War I written in purple pencil in which my grandfather received this telegram at the front in World War I where he was a soldier saying to him in German, papa is seriously ill. Come home immediately. And I'd read this with a tremendous immediacy realizing that this is my great grandfather that they're talking about who's ill.
MAITLANDAnd I wondered, gee, did my grandfather ever get home in time to see his father alive? And I jump up and I realize, oh, I have a photograph somewhere of my great grandfather's tombstone and maybe the date of his death is on the tombstone and then I can figure that out. And I go looking for that picture and I find it and sure enough, I see that his father had died that very day. So by virtue of having these documents -- I mean, it was that the whole story just unfolded out of that suitcase with birth announcements and marriage announcements and every kind of letter and love letter and postcard.
REHMYou know, we should talk about the fact that your grandmother and grandfather were separated for quite some time again. Your grandfather was taken captive because he was thought to be a German spy, even though he was German. But there were questions as to why he spoke the way he did and so on.
MAITLANDWell, the fascinating dilemma that the people of Alsace have faced for a very, very long time is that by virtue of the fact that France and Germany constantly were fighting over this piece of territory next to the Rhine, it changed hands back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And so some people were born at the time when it was German and some people were born when it was French. And what you were depended very much on the accident of timing of when your birthday was and who owned it when. And because my grandfather was born in 1880 at a time when -- well, I take that back. He solidly was born in Germany, but Alsace was going back and forth. He solidly was born in Germany.
MAITLANDBut to the French people who came from Germany were resented because of all of this fighting that had gone on back and forth. So when he moved into France, he was not well accepted as a German. They did not understand, many people, that he was a refugee from Germany. The fact that he came from Germany, per se, he might have been a German spy. And so he was immediately -- as soon as war was declared, he was pretty much locked up in a French dungeon. And when the family had to flee as the Germans invaded, he had to make his own way out of this dungeon and try...
REHMAnd your grandmother and her sister had to make their own way separately.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Why did your mother choose to portray herself as French rather than German?
MAITLANDRight. Well, so this is what I was getting at. Freiburg was very, very close to the border and Mulhouse was very close to the border on either side of the Rhine. Mulhouse was French, Freiburg German, as I said. My mother did not want to be taken for German because firstly she wanted to assimilate. When she moved into France there was always a drive to assimilate. This was her new home. She wanted to be French. She did not want a German accent. She did not want to be looked upon as a foreigner. Roland was French and she wanted to be French.
MAITLANDShe was angry at the Germans for what they had done to her family. They had left with nothing. Each person who fled at that point was allowed to leave with the equivalent of $2.50. Their home was lost. My grandfather's business was lost. They left with nothing. She was angry and she did not want to be associated as being German.
REHMAnd finally when they did manage to take that ship from France, one of the last ships out, she and her family were interned for a period of time in Cuba. I didn't know there was such an internment camp in Cuba.
MAITLANDYeah, it was very, very, very difficult for me to find out anything about this camp. It is not on any map. It is not in any guidebook. Thanks to the Holocaust Museum here in D.C. I was able to reach out to many other refugees who had been there. And even they did not know where they had been. Nobody seemed to know where this camp was. And I finally went to Cuba to find it but this was a camp that was set up by Batista's government to intern Jews who came to Cuba during the war. In the beginning, they really only used it as a camp sort of like Ellis Island to check people's papers, make sure they were okay and then let them into Havana.
MAITLANDBut by the time the last two boatloads arrived in 1942, 500 Jews were put into this camp for two reasons. One, there was some fear that German spies might be infiltrating so close to the United States. And Cuba had allied itself with the United States in the war. And two, it became a very rich source of graft for the corrupt Cuban officials at that time. They charged each of these Jews a very high rate to stay in the camp, even as they refused to let them out of the camp. They gave them barely enough food to eat, but had a very high priced canteen where they could buy food if they had the money.
MAITLANDThey required money to be paid to get out of the camp eventually, which many of them didn't have. And so for month after month after month these people were kept behind bars, behind barbed wire in terrible, terrible conditions that very few people knew about or cared about. And there they remained. It took finally vast bribes for them to be freed.
REHMHow long were they there?
MAITLANDThey were there for five months.
REHMLeslie Maitland, former investigative reporter for The New York Times. Her new book "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile and Love Reclaimed."
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, I know many of you are listening totally wrapped by Leslie Maitland's account of her family's background, heritage, their escape from what was the war surrounding them, the rise of Nazi Germany, finally their escape from France on one of the last boats to leave France and finally ending up in Cuba in an internment camp in which they were held for five months, forced to pay for food, forced to finally glean enough money to get their release. How did they get to the United States, Leslie?
MAITLANDWell, first, let me say it took a tremendous amount of pressure on the Cuban government to get these people out. And enough cannot be said about the actions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which was responsible for getting 8,000 Jews out of France, including my family, working to find visas and to pay money for the ships to get them out.
REHMAnd at the same time, we should say that the United States was not taking in a great many Jews from Germany at the time.
MAITLANDThat was really, you know, a shocking statistic...
MAITLAND...to find that 90 percent, 9-0, of the visas allotted under the quotas for refugees from countries being held by the Nazis were never awarded during that period.
REHMAnd Eleanor Roosevelt played a huge part in trying to persuade her husband to lift that barrier.
MAITLANDRight. And the amazing part was that even without expanding the number of quotas that they had awarded they could have allowed more in and didn't. But it took enormous amount of pressure from both, I must say, from newspapers in Cuba that were denouncing the Cuban government for holding these people for so long and ultimately the Joint brought pressure on the Vatican, on the American government, on all kinds of places to release these people. And finally after five months the Joint archives indicate that they had to take certain measures that cannot be spoken of publicly, which meant a bribe, to get these people free.
MAITLANDAnd once they were free they lived in Cuba, in Havana for a year where my mother attended school, before they could get a visa to come to the United States.
REHMWhat's extraordinary about your research is that you spent months at the Library of Congress going through French newspapers to get day-by-day accounts of what was happening.
MAITLANDTrue. And it was so fascinating and it did take a long time, but, you know, the Library of Congress just had a wonderful collection of old French newspapers which they kept warning me might not be there that much longer because they were going to be getting rid of them and digitizing everything.
MAITLANDBut there was nothing like it for getting the day-by-day account of what happened when war was declared, what were the regulations, what was happening, what were people doing, what were they saying. Even the advertisements were amazing. When France was occupied and anti-Semitism started to rise up in France, I found ads, like this one, from an eyeglass company, which still exists, called Lissac. And they had big ads in the newspaper, the French papers, that said, Lissac is not Isaac. We come from an old established French family. We are not Jews.
REHMI was stunned to read some of the accounts of Hitler's barrage against the Jews early on. First, we will not sell certain items. Second, we will not rent to Jews. We will not allow them to live in certain parts of -- it just went on and on and escalated.
MAITLANDRight. Children forced out of the regular schools, people no longer being able to work in their own professions and ultimately, as what happened to my grandfather, being forced to sell their companies to non-Jews when their businesses were so-called Aryanized.
REHMAnd I think, for me, this is the first time I have read such a personal account of what happened to families like yours on a daily basis as they were confronted by Hitler's rise to power. We have many callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Raleigh, N.C. Good morning, Ben.
BENGood morning. And gosh, thank you for taking my call. And, Miss Maitland, I appreciate your comments. I'll try and be quick and to the point, but I found it interesting that being the grandson of an Austrian immigrant and very proud of that, that often the discrimination that was faced by people here that maybe weren't even German, but maybe spoke with a German accent and some of my family's own personal accounts of people not coming to my grandparents wedding because my English grandmother was marrying an Austrian who spoke with a German accent, you know, the discrimination went across borders.
BENAnd sadly enough, you know, the immigrant story and I guess my family's methodology is the non-Native American story of America. And I think sadly enough we forget that throughout the generations and all I can think of was on Monday's show, when speaking of racial profiling in America, you know, this is no different.
REHMAnd certainly as far as Jews were concerned coming to America, it was no different.
MAITLANDTrue. And as Hannah Arendt said, you know, first of all, we detest being called refugees. And the goal was always, I think, in all times, to fit in, to assimilate and to become American.
REHMAnd how was your family received when they finally came here?
MAITLANDWell, I would say that for my grandparents, it was a totally different story because they themselves did not really try to assimilate. They lived in such a German-Jewish community of immigrates that basically the life that they had lived in Germany was -- minus their professions and minus their status of living and standard of living -- their neighbors were all German. Their culture remained German. They read the Aufbau newspaper that was published in New York in German.
REHMBut how could they support themselves, Leslie, once they came?
MAITLANDWell, they were lucky. They were very, very lucky. My grandfather was in his 60s when he got here and he was the youngest of 13 children. His eldest brothers had come here very early in the century...
REHMOh, I see.
MAITLAND...and had made a lot of money.
MAITLANDAnd they had left him enough money to modestly live for the rest of his life in a small New York apartment without working. He invested his inheritance and was able to survive.
REHMAnd support the family.
MAITLANDHis wife. Well, the kids were grown up by then.
REHMIndeed, all right. Let's go to Miami, Fla. Good morning, Leah.
LEAHGood morning. Thank you. My mother's maiden name was (sounds like) Olbin. Her grandfather was from (word?), but when my brother was born in 1946 on his birth certificate he was named D. S. Owen. And it was said that my mother's last name was Owen, same case with me and with my other brother. We always wondered why, but when I worked at the genealogy department at Jacksonville Library I learned that many people with Italian names and Germanic names in Cuba were harassed, in a way.
LEAHOne of the things which I read was that Batista himself would read the newspaper. And if he found someone, say, with an Italian sir name who had obtained any kind of position in a club or even in the private sector, he would make a call and say, why did you promote this person? This person could be a spy. So that's an unusual, I guess, tidbit, but it's a strange thing to have your sir name changed. My mother's passport was changed to Owen as if her real last name had never existed.
MAITLANDWell, certainly so many immigrants changed their names. And I must say when I was doing this book I finally had to laugh when I realized there was barely a person in the book whose name wasn't changing when they got here. Sometimes, I know certainly at Ellis Island and my father's father's name had been Barrish and at Ellis Island he became Bernard. But for others it was very much a conscious choice. To become American meant to shed a foreign-sounding name. And certainly, that when my father became Maitland, that's what he aimed to do. (laugh)
REHMTell me how and why your mother agreed to marry your father?
MAITLANDWell, let's see, five years had passed since she had left Roland. She had written, not received any answers. Of course her father was secretly hiding and destroying all of Roland's efforts to reach her. And she eventually felt that she had to move on. She was introduced to my dad on a blind date. And he was a very impressive fellow, I must say. He was movie-star handsome, tall, dark hair, bright blue eyes.
REHMAs yours are.
MAITLANDFantastic voice, I mean, just fantastic deep bass voice. Well, he could have been -- wanted to be an opera singer, really. Very sharp, witty, dynamic, fun, challenging, he was constantly writing her letters that tried to make her jealous by telling her about other dates and women he was after. And he was a rake. He was like Rhett Butler. He was that kind of character. And my mother, indeed, always liked a challenge. And I think that, you know, the challenger for her of winning Roland's love was part of her childhood fascination with him. He had belonged to another woman. She was gonna win him.
MAITLANDAnd with my father, he also represented a kind of challenge. He had been married before and he told her right from the start, I'm never gonna get married again. That's it. Nope. And she managed to change his mind and decided she had to move on and make a new life. Shortly thereafter, she was pregnant with me when Roland came to New York to try to find her. And that, I think, was the great test for her, of her lifetime, because she refused to see him for fear that she would run off with him, would either take me with her, which she felt would be unfair to my father to abscond with his first child or leave me behind. She couldn't imagine doing either. And so she had to decline to see him and never forgot it.
REHMLeslie Maitland. The book is titled, "Crossing the Borders of Time". And you're listening to the "The Diane Rehm Show". To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Antonio.
ANTONIOGood morning. I just was listening to what you guys were talking about. And it was very interesting. My family also had to escape Europe during the 1940s. My grandpa was born in Spain and his dad was one of the only teachers in the little town that he grew up in. He married a Hungarian immigrant to Spain, which was my grandma. And the marriage happened right after the Spanish Civil War. And on their way back of the entire family back to Hungary they, of course most of them, all disappeared.
ANTONIOThey ended up in places, of course, we don't know. And I do know that my grandpa told me one time that the only way that they escaped was through the help of the Mexican consulate in Spain because the Mexican government, at the time, was looking for all types of people with trades, professions, schooling to bring them into Mexico to raise the country's standards. My grandpa came in. He was treated just like any other Spaniard. He was treated extremely well. So I'm sad to hear that they went through such hardship in Cuba.
ANTONIOMy uncle, on the other hand, did go through France with some of the Americans. And for 15 years he kind of disappeared and we think he made it to Cuba, but he never really spoke about it.
REHMThere are clearly so many stories out there, Leslie, but I want to end by letting our listeners know that the story did not end when Roland came to New York and your mother refused to see him. The story goes on because you found Roland.
MAITLANDTrue. At a point when my father was very ill and near the end of his life I found Roland. I didn't realize that I was going to intend to do that, but something drew me to do that. And I found him and they were reunited in a way that I hope readers will discover. It is unusual, interesting and (laugh) in many ways I think a feminist story because I feel that after a lifetime of sort of living under the thumb of her very strict father, of being subject to the pressures of war and persecution and the demands of her times, of being married to a man who was very difficult and demanding and lived his own life in many ways that were painful, she finally said, this is for me.
MAITLANDAnd I'm going to make my own life at this point. And what she did then, I think, took a great deal of resolve and it showed a woman who had learned something about seizing happiness.
REHMAnd we should say that you dedicated the book both to your mother and your father. You loved them both.
MAITLANDAnd I really wanna say something about that. You know, in the beginning of the book, when I started out, I originally thought I would be dedicating it to my mother. But the more I got into the book and the journey was one very much of self discovery for me, as well, over the time. I came to realize that my father's life was very affected by Roland, as well. And that who knows how he would have been had there not always been this specter of the other man hovering in the background. And that he was as much a victim of war as my mother had been. And so for him, as well, this book.
REHMLeslie Maitland. The book is titled, "Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed." Congratulations, Leslie.
MAITLANDThank you, Diane, so very much.
REHMAnd thank you for being here.
MAITLANDWell, thank you for your interest and support over all this period that I've been working on this.
REHMThanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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