A lifetime ago, when I was in college, I had the unique opportunity to spend a summer behind what was then the Iron Curtain. While inPolandan opportunity to visitAuschwitzcame about. Prior to that visit, I remember being vaguely aware that the Nazis had used gas in a shower room to kill some people somewhere, but that was the extent of my Holocaust knowledge.
The visit toAuschwitzbecame one of the touchpoints in my life. It was dreary, misty, and gray the day we were there – fitting weather for such a visit. I remember the horrors at seeing the displays of artificial limbs, luggage, shorn hair, even skin lampshades; the terror at being shut into one of the standing cells; and the shower rooms/gas chambers.
Since that time, books written about that period have been both fascinating and educational (even the fictitious ones) to me. I recently read Miep Gies’ “Anne Frank Remembered” which caused me to re-read Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl – the Comprehensive Edition”. (This edition contains parts Frank’s father edited out of the original edition.) Reading those two books in sequence is the way to do it. They tell the same story, but from opposite sides of the coin.
All this brings me to today’s book, one dealing with a part of the Holocaust I knew nothing about. I saw the movie “Sarah’s Key” over Christmas, and this convinced me to read the book upon which the movie was based. Then, nothing else would do except to watch the movie again.
“Sarah’s Key”, by Tatiana de Rosnay, is a fictionalized account of the great Velodrome d’Hiver roundup onJuly 16, 1942in which the French police rounded up French Jews inParisfor eventual deportation toAuschwitz.
De Rosnay tells two tales in one. While the police are at their apartment door, Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret closet, promising to return for him shortly. She believes this will keep him safe. She and her parents are then taken to the Velodrome along with thousands of others.
Sixty years later Julia Jarmond, an American journalist, is investigating the round up to write about it for its anniversary. She discovers the apartment that her husband’s family has occupied for decades was inhabited by a Jewish family untilJuly 16, 1943 — the night of the Vel’ d’Hiv’.
Told in alternating voices, de Rosnay weaves together Julia and Sarah’s stories. Julia is determined to find out what happened to the family who had lived in the apartment. She locates information pointing to the deaths of Sarah’s parents, but finds nothing about Sarah or her brother, Michel.
Her quest to discover what happened to Sarah and Michel takes her to many places. Physically, she travels and speaks with people aroundFrance, inItaly, and in theU.S. Emotionally, she is led to question her own life and relationships, along with questioning what things in life are really important.
This book will take the reader on a roller coaster of emotions. It sticks with you. It comes to mind when least expected. It makes you think. It wasn’t until 1995 that then-President of France, Jacques Chirac, officially acknowledgedFrance’s complicity in the murders and deportations of its own citizens.
There is a statue in memory of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup inParisthat was not put into place until 1994. Its inscription ends with the words “Never forget”. This book, though fiction, insures I will not forget. You won’t forget either.
Joplin Public Library has “Sarah’s Key” in print, downloadable audio, and theDVDmovie version. As usual, the book trumps the movie version.