I resisted reading Sarah’s Key, thinking it would be just another war exposé, maybe another Anne Frank. But Tatiana de Rosnay addresses a war secret glossed over, even hidden, in the history books. When I was in Germany last year, I took a tour in Munich that walked my group around sites that were no longer there, except for the plaques. The guide emphasized that the Germans carefully removed buildings that had been used to glorify Nazism. Of course, the places of horrors are there – especially, the concentration camps – so that no one will ever forget.
In Sarah’s Key, evidence of the French’s complicity in the terrible July, 1942 Vel’ d’Hiv’ Paris roundup of Jews is erased, but the shame of their participation still stains their history and continues to affect surviving generations. In an historical and personal approach to an often ignored piece of the Holocaust, de Rosnay centers her story around two characters: Sarah, a young girl taken from her home that day and forced to endure horrors, terrible pain, loss of dignity and family; and Julia, who years later finds herself in the center of the family shame that profited and then later tried to compensate for Sarah’s loss.
De Rosnay uses the poignancy of a young girl’s experiences, and the courage of a woman who must finally assert her own voice to tell a compelling story and open eyes.
“He knew it had been a Jewish family that had been arrested during that big roundup. But he had closed his eyes, like so many other Parisians, during that terrible year…No one wants to be reminded…nobody wants to think about that.”
De Rosnay includes descriptions of Paris then and now, and the viewpoint of an American in Paris along with typical family drama, but it is the historical facts that carry the punch. Whether or not you know about Hitler’s terrible “Operation Spring Breeze,” de Rosnay’s history lesson is worth telling, to not forget.
To read a review of another Tatiana de Rosnay book, check out A Secret Kept