Leslie Maitland has written a memoir that focuses on her immigrant mother and her family, refugees from Frieberg, Germany. Her thoroughly researched narration of their dangerous and difficult journey to America is both engrossing and edifying. It also demonstrates that although her family’s situation was unique in its detail, similar iterations of their experience were being enacted throughout Europe as Jews tried to escape from Hitler’s death machine.
The oldest of two children, Maitland repeatedly heard pieces of her mother’s story that entranced her. The research she embarked on to corroborate her mother’s version of what happened and to flesh out the details took her on several trips to Germany and France as well as to Cuba where she interviewed officials and survivors and met with archivists to help her search through records.
The author’s maternal grandparents, Sigmar and Lisel Gunzburger, had no interest in leaving Germany when Hitler came to power. Her grandfather, from a well-established family who had lived in Germany for many generations, co-owned with one of his brothers a successful business in Frieberg. Although many Jews had already fled, they, like others, felt that they could weather a temporary storm, but by the time her grandfather realized that he and his family were in real danger, it was extremely difficult accessing bank accounts, finding a country that would take them in, and securing visas and exit permits.
Maitland’s mother’s family was fortunate for a number of reasons: her grandfather had a friend who was a Christian brother, Joseph Fimbel, who helped them immeasurably. And he had wealthy and well-connected relatives in America and France who loaned him money and managed to help him get passage to Cuba. But their route was long and circuitous. They left Germany in 1938 and settled in Mulhouse, France. Maitland includes a map that shows how they wended their way through France with extended stays in Mulhouse, Gray and Lyon. When all paperwork was in order they left for Marseille where the American Joint Distribution Committee had arranged for Portuguese ships to transport Jewish refugees to Cuba. More machinations eventually got them to the United States where they arrived in 1944.
The story Maitland tells of their life in America (she was born in 1949), is a version of a classic immigrant tale. Her family settled in the German Jewish refugee community in Inwood in New York where they felt comfortable amongst fellow immigrants who clung to their language and customs. Maitland's grandfather read the German-Jewish newspaper, the Aufbau, and wrote constantly to Germany about the bank accounts and property he had left behind. Soon Maitland’s mother and her two siblings were married and each had an apartment in the same building as their parents. This extreme closeness lasted until the author’s American-born father decided that it was time to move on and up: they bought a suburban house in New Jersey where to some extent both the author, then eight years old, and her mother felt exiled.
The rest of the story focuses for the most part on her mother’s first love, a young Roman Catholic she had met when they lived in Mulhouse, France. Although they had made a commitment to each other and vowed to reunite somehow, somewhere after the war, the relationship was fraught with complications. Because he was Catholic her parents and other relatives sabotaged the relationship which included intercepting letters. So they lost track of each other and each assumed the other had lost interest. Although less compelling than the sections narrating the family’s life in Germany and their flight, the couples’ initially thwarted romance raises the enduring question: “What if?” But it also makes the significant point that war leaves its mark in many ways. So many people dead, survivors traumatized, so many families and relationships ruptured, displaced, reconfigured.
This memoir includes maps, photos, a bibliography, and a family tree with birth and death dates and places of origin. The author notes that she has changed some names to protect privacy but it is highly unlikely any names on the family tree have been changed by her, so I present the names below assuming they are correct.
To read an article about the difficulties refugees had in landing in Cuba, click here.
To read an article about the difficulties refugees had obtaining visas to come to the United States, click here.
Author's mother's family
Simon Gunzburger – married Jeanette Bloch
David Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
Norbert Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
Karoline Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Edward Winter
Gretl Winter – daughter of Karoline and Edward; married Marcel Weil
Herbert Winter – son of Karoline and Edward; married Estelle Sokoloff
Max Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette
Sara Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Maurice Feldstein
Hermann Gunzberger (Gunn) – son of Simon and Jeanette
Marie Gunzburger – daughter of Simon and Jeanette; married Paul Cahen (Mulhouse)
Emilie Mulhouse – daughter of Marie and Paul; married Maurice Goldschmidt
Elie Jean Mulhouse – daughter of Emilie and Maurice
Jeanine Mulhouse – daughter of Emilie and Maurice
Jacques Mulhouse – son of Emilie and Maurice
Edmond Mulhouse – son of Marie and Paul; married Elizabeth Hauser
Francoise and Janine Cahen – twin daughters of Edmond and Elizabeth
Michel Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
Paul-Andre Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
Robert Cahen Mulhouse – son of Edmond and Elizabeth
Isabelle Cahen – daughter of Edmond and Elizabeth
Heinrich Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette; married Toni
Sigmar (Samuel) Gunzburger – son of Simon and Jeanette; married to Lisel (Alice) Heinsheimer
Norbert Gunzburger – son of Sigmar and Lisel; married Dorothea Ostheim
Stanley Gunzburger – son of Norbert and Dorothea
Hanna (Janine) Gunzburger – son on Sigmar and Lisel; married Leonard Maitland
Leslie Maitland - daughter of Sigmar and Lisel; married Daniel Werner; author
Zachary Werner – son of Leslie and Daniel
Ariel Werner – daughter of Leslie and Daniel
Gary Maitland – son of Sigmar and Lisel
Gertrude Gunzburger – daughter of Sigmar and Lisel; married Heinz Rawitscher (Harry Rawlings)
Lynne Rawlings Maravin – daughter of Gertrude and Harry
Michael Rawling – son of Gertrude and Harry
Max Wolf – cousin, relationship not clear
Author’s mother’s mother's family
Maier Heinsheimer – married Johanna Kahn
Lina Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Sigmund Weil
Carol Weil – daughter of Lina and Sigmund
Jennie Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Joseph Guggenheim
Rosie Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Natan Marx
Hannchen Marx – daughter Rosie and Natan; married Julius Hamburger
Lisel (Alice) Heinsheimer – daughter of Maier and Johanna; married Sigmar Gunzburger (see above)
Sigfried Heinsheimer – son of Maier and Johanna; married Liesel
Ruth Heinsheimer – daughter of Sigfried and Liesel
Cousins relationship not clear: Huguette Cahen, Francois Blum, Lynn Ullman, Suzanne Steinberg.
Author’s father’s family:
Beresh (Bernard) and Fannie Friedman (changed name to Maitland)
Mona Maitland – daughter of Bernard and Fannie
Leonard Maitland – son of Bernard and Fannie; married Janine Gunzburger (see above)
Danielle Fakhr and Helene Putermilch - cousins of author's father - relationship not clear
Friends and Acquaintances
Therese and Alfred Loewy
Pauline Picard (sister of Isabelle)
Rene Baruch Levy - son on Moise
Inwood, New York
Englewood Heights, New Jersey