Author: Mark Mazower

Publisher: Other Press (October 17, 2017)

ISBN-10: 1590519078

ISBN-13: 978-159051907 

The man historian Mark Mazower is referring to in the title of his newest book is his grandfather—Mordecai “Max” Mazower. Mark traces the story of his grandfather and the rest of his family by digging into nearly every possible nook and cranny of available public and private archives as well as family documents and photographs of a man who lived an extraordinary if secretive life.

Major highlights of Max Mazower’s complex life include his time in Tsarist Russia as an agent of a revolutionary Jewish socialist movement, the Bund, once the most powerful and active socialist organization throughout Russia. While the Bund has largely been forgotten by history due to the rise and impact of the Bolsheviks, Max Mazower apparently maintained contact with his Bund comrades and supported the party in Poland long after the organization was absorbed by the Communist Party in Russia.   

Mazower’s Bund activities twice resulted in exile to Siberia before he escaped to Poland in 1907, then Germany, and ultimately England. There, while mostly silent about his past, he became a very successful representative of the Yost typewriter company, focusing on sales to his former country which he visited frequently.   While recounting his grandfather’s years between the European wars, the younger Mazower shares how his own investigations progressed, including the dead ends he bumped into.  For example, he suspected grand-dad might have been a spy for the Bolsheviks, but found no evidence to support his theory.

Some chapters, at first glance, might seem largely digressions as with Mazower’s biographies of his illegitimate half-brother, Andre, and Andre’s mysterious mother, Sophia. Then again, the book is centered on the life and legacy of Max Mazower so all his family connections are explored as fully as the author could dig.  Not surprisingly, the story of Max’s wife, Frouma, earns considerable attention including her first marriage, the death of her first husband, her relations with her second husband, and her life after his death. We also read the story of Ira, the daughter of Frouma’s first marriage.  Like Mazower, Frouma came from a Russia of turbulent times and was essentially rescued from comparatively harsh circumstances to live in England, even if she didn’t know English.  

Then, naturally enough, Mark Mazower recounts the upbringing of Bill, his father, and then his own childhood. What we see is a family that is part of the Russian Jewish diaspora and how these emigres fared in England. After the first part where we learn much about the role of the Bund and life in pre and post-revolutionary Russia, we get smaller insights into the lives of Russian emigres during the second half of the Twentieth Century.   We see how each generation gets more and more distanced from their Russian roots as the family all are raised in and are citizens of other countries, in this “case study,” mostly England.

Clearly, What You Did Not Tell is a tale that would appeal to a rather restricted, limited audience. Mark Mazower has written twelve volumes on European history including Governing the World:  The History of an Idea, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations, Hitler’s Empire:  Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe, as well as a number of scholarly tomes on Greek history. He uses the same tone in his family history, along with a lengthy section of appendices and scholarly apparatus. We get the facts, when known, the most credible speculations, when they are all he has, and little veering into opinion or emotion.  So if this subject matter interests you, then you get a well-written volume that is very revelatory in its first chapters, less so as it progresses.