What You Did Not Tell

A Father's Past and the Journey Home

Publication Date: Jun 05, 2018

400 pp

Now Available in Paperback

A warm, insightful memoir by an acclaimed historian that explores the struggles of twentieth-century Europe through the lives and hopes of a single family—his own.

Following his relatives’ remarkable stories, Mark Mazower recounts the sacrifices and silences that marked a generation and their descendants. With a rich array of letters, photographs, interviews, and archives, he creates a moving portrait of a family that fate drove into the siege of Stalingrad, the Vilna ghetto, occupied Paris, and even the ranks of the Wehrmacht. His British father was the lucky one, the son of Russian Jewish emigrants who settled in London after escaping civil war and revolution. Max, the grandfather, had started out as a member of the socialist Bund organization and manned the barricades against tsarist troops, but never spoke of it. His wife, Frouma, came from a family ravaged by the Great Terror yet somehow making their way in Soviet society.

In the centenary of the Russian Revolution, What You Did Not Tell recalls a brand of socialism erased from memory: humanistic, impassioned, and broad-ranging in its sympathies. But it also examines the unexpected happiness that may await history’s losers, the power of friendship, and the love of place that allowed Max and Frouma’s son to call England home.

Excerpt from What You Did Not Tell

A leading anarchist called Rudolf Rocker once wrote in his recollections of the political exiles he had known in turn-of-the-century London that they were taciturn men, disinclined to talk much, and Max was of that kind: his wife, Frouma, called him zhivotik—“little stomach”—because words stayed down there and rarely made their way up into his mouth. He had no difficulty with languages—he spoke four fluently, and his English was impeccable, with no trace of an accent. But Max had learned to say no more than was necessary in any of them.

He belonged to the same generation as Vladimir Lenin, Menshevik leader Julius Martov, and the future Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov, and his path had almost certainly intersected with theirs because when he had entered business in the years before the First World War, working for a Russian shipping firm in the city of Vilna, he had simultaneously been involved in running an underground socialist movement. Its full name was the Algemeyner Yidisher Arbeter Bund in Lite, Poyln un Rusland—the General Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia—but it was known simply as the Bund. Today it has been almost entirely forgotten: its language, Yiddish, barely survives, and the people who supported it—the Jewish working classes of the Russian Pale of Settlement—were mostly wiped out in the war. Yet in its time the Bund played an absolutely critical role in the birth of leftwing party politics in the tsarist empire. Leading a double life as a merchant’s bookkeeper and revolutionary agitator, Max had learned early on the value of those habits of caution, silence, and mistrust that were necessary for survival. He never forgot them—or the loyalties he grew up with. To the end of his life Max was not just a man of the Left: he was a Bundist.

“Mark Mazower is a great historian and a subtle writer always attentive to humane detail.” —Orhan Pamuk, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature

“Within the experience of a single family can be seen the forces that shaped whole nations and peoples…Mark Mazower, a distinguished British-born historian, explores the story of his own family, especially that of his paternal grandparents, Jews who emerged at the turn of the twentieth century from the poverty and backwardness of the Russian provinces into the ferment of socialist struggle and, eventually, into the turmoil of the wider world.”—Wall Street Journal

“Unusual and exceptionally interesting…[Mazower] excavates, through rigorous research and tenacious sleuthing, the history of a family whose lives spanned the entire twentieth century, and whose fates were closely interwoven with its many ideological terrors and violent upheavals.” —New York Review of Books
“A fascinating and scholarly reconstruction of a family’s life and the myriad relations, friends, acquaintances, places, houses, and adventures that spin out from it…What You Did Not Tell is proof of what historical research can yield, providing you have the determination, skill and boundless curiosity to pursue it to the bitter end.” —The Guardian

“‘How is it that the places we live in come to feel that they are ours?’ a noted historian asks in this exacting memoir…Mazower, plowing through letters, diaries, and archives, finds that his grandfather’s story encompasses many of the horrors of twentieth-century Europe.” —The New Yorker

“Many families have stories that are passed down to the next generation, but Mazower has gone beyond storytelling and legend. He has repaid the debt to those who went before him.” —Jerusalem Post

“An enchanting, beautifully written memoir…There are few historians who can write as grippingly as Mazower about secrets and the painstaking work of revealing them.” —Financial Times