British-born Mark Mazower, the Ira D. Wallach Professor of History and director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities, is a historian of Europe and Greece in the 19th and 20th centuries. Much of his work has covered international developments on either side of World War II. In his book, What You Did Not Tell: A Russian Past and the Journey Home, he turns his scholar’s eye closer to home.
In a deeply researched multi-generational memoir, he tells his paternal grandparents’ story and, through them, a history of the Russian Jewish Left. He also unravels generations of family secrets, examining the letters that passed between Moscow, London and Paris, decades-worth of his father’s diaries, police records from the tsarist and Soviet files and the riches of online genealogical search engines.
“I grew up with this knowledge of my father’s Russian background, but the details seemed very vague as to which aunt was related to which,” he said. Mazower’s father, Max, who died in 2009, led a settled life spent from birth almost entirely in a small segment of north London around Hampstead Heath—a complete contrast to his paternal grandparents. “I wanted to write a book about how history makes us, and to do so I realized that I would have to go back and look at his parents.”
Max Mazower was born in tsarist Russia in the late 19th century, in what is now Grodno in Belarus, before becoming a revolutionary leader of the Jewish Socialist Bund. He mobilized workers, ran underground printing presses and organized insurrections before being sent twice into exile in Siberia. His wife, Frouma, hailed from near Smolensk. They lived through the Russian Revolution, the Red Terror and the rise of the Bolsheviks before making a life together as exiles in London.
You can read the full interview here.