World War Two. We all know about it. We can all retell the general happenings that took place. “Who was at fault” I’d ask you; “The Germans“, you’d reply. And yes you would be right, but what Tatiana De Rosnay has depicted in this harrowing but wonderful book is that the German’s are not the only people at fault.
Sarah’s Key is set in France and tells the truth about what happened in France in during the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup. The narrative follows two main characters Sarah Starzynski, a young Jewish girl living in Paris with her parents and younger brother at the time of the roundup; and Julia Jarmond an American journalist living in Paris in the modern day who is asked to write a piece about the roundup on it’s 50th anniversary.
This story broke my heart. Sure, I’ve read The Diary of Anne Frank and have a particular fondness for books, movies, and TV shows that can depict the horrors of the war in an effective and appropriate fashion, but this book really tore me apart.
Sarah is in her apartment one night when the French Police arrive. She has heard her parents mumbling lately about something and she knows it’s not good. She hides her brother away, promising she will return for him when the police leave, but then she gets arrested along with her mother and father and taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a stadium which had been used for bicycle racing. She is held captive there with 7,000 other Jewish men, women, and children; the majority of whom, if they survived long enough, ended up in Auswitz. The story follows Sarah’s determination to get back to find her brother during this terrifying time.
Julia Jarmond researches the Vel’ d’Hiv and is horrified to learn of the involvement of the French Police. This is something nobody seems to know about. She discovers a personal connection to Sarah Starzynski and cannot rest until she uncovers all she can about this young girl and the horrors she encountered.
This book was amazing. Honestly, I couldn’t help but become emotionally involved. It made me think of the children I know and love and how terrified they would be if they were ever treated in such an inhumane manner. Even though the events of World War Two are not yet 100 years old, they are almost forgotten. We think of the war and yes we recognise the fact that there was death, destruction, needless and heartless mass murder; but do we ever stop to think about these people as people… not just statistics. Yes the Jews were killed… but do you look into the eyes of your son or daughter and wonder how many children their age were rounded up and killed off? I bet you don’t. It’s easier not to. It’s too easy to acknowledge the War for the horror it was and move on. There were so many innocent lives taken. And for what? It was needless, it was disgusting.
Even though the story follows two main characters, it made me sit back and think about the thousands of individuals who were treated like this. How many thousands of stories have been left untold? How many people were involved in these events; who notified the police of where the Jewish people lived; who turned a blind eye; who were responsible for arresting these poor innocent people…? Our world was changed utterly by these events. How could the involvement of the French Police be so easily swept under the carpet? I have so many questions but there will never be enough answers.
If you have any interest in human rights, or in World War Two then this is a book for you. The book looks at how easily society can turn its head and look away. It has taught me how important it is to stand up for others, and to not be led like a sheep. We have a duty to remember all those who were ruthlessly murdered in the events of World War Two. A fantastic and haunting read. I believe that this is a book that all teenagers should be required to read in order to teach them the importance of compassion, bravery, and equality. We live in a world that can be so full of hate, discrimination, and suffering. A book like this has the power to show people how far things can go if left undisturbed. We are a community of people and we owe it to one another to learn from past mistakes to try to create a more promising future for those here now, and those yet to come.
I feel that the only fault with the book lay in how quickly it ended. I felt that I needed to get closure around the two people at the end of the book. (I don’t want to say too much here because I don’t want to give anything away!) It was a story that I felt was brave, and honest, but I would like to know how things ended for Julia.
Do you have a penchant for the stories of the War or do you feel that this is a book you would now like to read? Let me know in the comments below!