Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, especially in conjunction with World War II, the Holocaust, and mideval kingdoms. Sarah's Key intertwines two stories, one of 10-year-old Sarah in occupied France in 1942, the other of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist married into a French family in modern day Paris.
The book begins with police pounding on the door of the Starzynki's apartment on July 16,1942. Naive to the situation, and having no reason to fear French police, Sarah locks her four-year-old brother in their secret cupboard, promising to return after everything has been straightened out with the police.
Sarah's papa had been hiding in the cellar as rumors of a "big round up" had been circulating. No one anticipated, under orders of the French police, all the Jews would be rounded up, including French born children. In the middle of the night, they were taken to the Velodrome d'Hiver on city buses and left in deplorable conditions before being sent on city buses and city trains to outlying "work camps" and then, ultimately, to their deaths at Auschwitz.
60 years later, Julia Jarmond is asked to research the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup as part of an anniversary article for her magazine. Julia is confronted with the horror of that night, shame for not knowing, and anger at how the French government and people refuse to acknowledge what happened. The more she learns and researches, the more she starts to unlock family secrets and a horrific history. In the end she must decide for herself the value of life and the price of honesty.
Sarah's story is heartbreaking. Julia's is one of awareness. Neither should be ignored and I won't soon forget either of their stories.
At the end of the book I felt very much how Julia did, "I am so, so sorry... I am sorry for not knowing."
***Historical note: July 16-17, 1942 13,000 French Jews were rounded up from Paris and its suburbs and taken to the Velodrome d'Hiver. They were then loaded on buses and sent to Loiret. On July 20, children were forcibly removed from their mothers at Loiret. The mothers were sent on to Auschwitz gas chambers; the children to Drancy, unaccompanied and mostly unidentified, then to Auschwitz and death. Roughly 4,000 children were massacred as a result of Operation Spring Wind. Click here for more info.