During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma's grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger's parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other.Read more...
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During the almost six years England was at war with Nazi Germany, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger, Ian Buruma's grandparents, and the film director John Schlesinger's parents, were, like so many others, thoroughly sundered from each other. Their only recourse was to write letters back and forth. And write they did, often every day. In a way they were just picking up where they left off in 1918, at the end of their first long separation because of the Great War that swept Bernard away to some of Europe's bloodiest battlefields. The thousands of letters between them were part of an inheritance that ultimately came into the hands of their grandson, Ian Buruma. Now, in a labor of love that is also a powerful act of artistic creation, Ian Buruma has woven his own voice in with theirs to provide the context and counterpoint necessary to bring to life, not just a remarkable marriage, but a class, and an age.Winifred and Bernard inherited the high European cultural ideals and attitudes that came of being born into prosperous German-Jewish emigre families. To young Ian, who would visit from Holland every Christmas, they seemed the very essence of England, their spacious Berkshire estate the model of genteel English country life at its most pleasant and refined. It wasn't until years later that he discovered how much more there was to the story. At its heart, Their Promised Land is the story of cultural assimilation. The Schlesingers were very British in the way their relatives in Germany were very German, until Hitler destroyed that option. The problems of being Jewish and facing anti-Semitism even in the country they loved were met with a kind of stoic discretion. But they showed solidarity when it mattered most. As the shadows of war lengthened again, the Schlesingers mounted a remarkable effort, which Ian Buruma describes movingly, to rescue twelve Jewish children from the Nazis and see to their upkeep in England. Many are the books that do bad marriages justice; precious few books take readers inside a good marriage. In Their Promised Land, Buruma has done just that; introducing us to a couple whose love was sustaining through the darkest hours of the century. Look for Ian's new book, A Tokyo Romance, in March, 2018.
- ISBN-13: 9781594204388
- ISBN-10: 1594204381
- Publisher: Penguin Pr
- Publish Date: January 2016
- Page Count: 305
- Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.98 pounds
A couple's history and heroism during WWII
Esteemed historian Ian Buruma turns his attention to a happy marriage in his elegant new book, Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War. While his grandparents might seem a more limited subject than his recent Year Zero: A History of 1945, this family love story is deeply intertwined with history. Using their correspondence during both the First and Second World Wars as his primary source, Buruma crafts a finely observed portrait of an assimilated Jewish family in England between the wars.
In Buruma’s telling, Winifred and Bernard Schlesinger were “more English than the English.” Of German-Jewish origin, they came from distinguished, upper-middle-class families who prized education and classical music. Although they were not officially engaged until 1922, their mutual affection is clear from letters written as early as 1915. Buruma humorously depicts the strain of the long engagement on their powers of patience; once they were finally married in 1925, they joked of having to consult Roman frescoes for advice on sex.
Despite their warm domestic life and five children (including film director John Schlesinger), the family’s encounters with anti-Semitism darken the peace and milieu in which they live. Bernard, a doctor, found himself blackballed from certain medical institutions; his frustration at this routine discrimination led to the most heroic act of the Schlesingers’ marriage. In 1938, the family helped 12 child refugees leave Nazi Germany and kept them safe in England. One of the most moving moments in the book occurs when Buruma names “the Twelve,” many of whom are still living today.