Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sarah's Key

Sarah’s Key by Tantiama De Rosnay. I found this to be an amazing story. It was very easy to read, with short chapters that alternated between the present and some true events that occurred in Paris in July of 1942.

The story begins with Sarah, who was an 10 year old French Jewess girl, living in Paris in July of 1942 when the French police gathered up the Jews (men, women and children) and sent them to the Velodrome d’Hiver stadium. As the police came to their apartment to get them, Sarah locked her 4 year old brother in a secret cabinet in their apartment, telling him that she would be back soon to get him. In the past, when people had been taken away, they returned either that day or the next day, so Sarah thought she would be returning, and took the key to the cabinet with her. However, this time was different.

The families were not provided any food or water or facilities in the stadium, and people began dying. The only positive thing was that the families remained together there. Sadly, after a couple of days, the people were loaded on cattle cars and sent to Drancy, then to Auschwitz.

Meanwhile, the book jumps forward to Paris in 2002. Julia Jarmond, an American journalist, is married to Bertram Tezac, a Frenchman, and they have an 11 year old daughter, Zoe. Julia has lived in Paris for the last 25 years. She is assigned to do an article on the 60th anniversary of the round-up. As she begins researching the time, she learns of a family connection and of a little girl, Sarah. Julia becomes consumed with the story and seeks out any information that she can gather.

I don’t want to tell too much more about the story. I found myself picking up this book any spare moment that I had…it was that intriguing to me. However, I have to admit, also, that it had many interesting connections for me…I have always read a great deal about the Holocaust in general, with a special fascination with the French part of it. Julia’s research entailed a great deal of genealogy type work, which I am obsessed with. And the different family dynamics and connections, played right into my psychotherapist role! Another attraction to the book for me was the instant recognition and comfort level that Julia had with one of the characters. I am fascinated with reincarnation, and that fit well with my beliefs of people that we have known before we were born.

I also became so interested in the story that I had to do a little research of the time for myself. Here is an excerpt from one of the articles that I found:

Jewish Paris

By Toni L. Kamins, June 2001

In the 15th arrondissement, not far from the Bir-Hakeim Bridge, between Quai Branly and Quai de Grenelle is a memorial to a shameful chapter in French history – the Place des Martyrs Juifs du Vélodrome d’Hiver, dedicated in 1994. It was nearby, on the rue Nélaton, that the huge Vél d’Hiv was located. An indoor stadium used for six-day bicycle races, concerts, boxing matches and other events, it was from 1942 until its demolition in 1958, one of the most infamous places in all Paris. Early in the morning of July 16, 1942, the French police, acting under orders from the German Gestapo (headquartered at the Hotel Lutetia on the Blvd Raspail), wrenched over 13,000 Jewish men, women, and children from their beds and brought them here. Kept under horrendous conditions for days, they were shipped to the transit camp at Drancy (outside the city) and then to Auschwitz.

I have to admit that I was so moved by this story that I cried at the end of it. I haven’t been so touched by a story for a long time. This book will stay with me for a long time. It very accurately portrays the sadness and pain that keeping family secrets can cause. It also proves my oft-said point-that nothing is ever a secret.

For anyone interested here is the link to Tatiana de Rosnay’s blog:


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