There have been hundreds of books written about World War II, some being true stories, and others being fictional but based around actual events during the war. “Sarah’s Key” is fiction, although the setting is a Paris police round-up in July of 1942.
The Starzynski family is living in Paris when the local French police, under orders from the Germans, round up all the Jews they can find – men, women and children. When the police bang on their door, 10-year-old Sarah locks her little brother Michael in a cupboard, thinking they will merely be questioned at the police station and they will be able to come back for him later. Instead, Sarah and her parents are herded into the Vélodrome d’Hiver stadium, along with 28,000 other Jews. They are held there for five days, then stuffed onto a train, and sent to the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp. Sarah is able to escape from the camp before everyone there is transferred to Auschwitz, but is too late to save her brother’s life.
The story switches back and forth from Sarah’s story to the present-day story of Julia, an American journalist in Paris. Julia is given the assignment of researching the Vel’ d’Hiv detainment of Jews by French police, as the 60th anniversary of the event approaches. Strangely, many Parisians claim to have no memory of this event in their city’s history. It has been purposely forgotten, buried under the rug as several generations have passed by. The more Sarah investigates, the more obsessed she becomes. Eventually it affects her life and her marriage.
This was a difficult book to read. The character of Sarah was fictional, but the arrests, the separating of the parents from the children, and the premeditated murder of 28,000 innocent people was real. I asked myself, how could human beings who are capable of great love participate in such hate and evil? I can fathom the occasional psychopathic killer doing something so sick, but how did so many people participate in these atrocities? And not just one time, but over and over for years. It sickened me to think of people choosing to torture, starve and kill their fellow man. It is also sickening to think about how the Holocaust is slowly being covered over. Despite the evidence of interviews with people that lived through it, video footage, photography, and written testimony, there are still people who believe it never happened, or that reports were exaggerated. Denying the truth can only lead people to do the same evil things over and over.