Sarah’s Key…this book will make you think

Rafle du Vel d'Hiv plaque

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I picked this book up Saturday and finished reading it Sunday evening…you can always tell how much I like a book by how quickly I read it.  I had trouble putting Sarah’s Key down…that’s how good this book is.

The book seamlessly weaves the stories of a young Jewish girl (Sarah) in France during World War II and a modern era American journalist  (Julia) who has a writing assignment about the horror that was the Vel’ d’Hiv in Paris.  Not sure what the Vel’ d’Hiv is?  Neither was I.  French Jews (women and children along with the men) were rounded up by French police officers, forced to the Velodrome d’Hiver where they were held prisoner for several days, no food, no water, no restrooms…they were held in these horrendous conditions by their fellow countrymen…I guess that’s one of the things that struck me, these were not Nazis, these were French police officers who committed these atrocities against French citizens.

The people were eventually shipped off to the concentration camps, but the pain and suffering they endured along the entire journey was something no human should have to live through.  Sarah and her parents were caught in the round-up, but Sarah hid her four-year-old brother in their secret hiding place to keep him safe.  I won’t give away that part of the story, but be sure you have a box of tissues close at hand.  I will tell you that Sarah manages to escape, but she lives with what happened for the rest of her life.  There’s no escaping the hell these people lived through.

As Julia researches the story, she learns about Sarah and is captivated by her plight…obsessed might be a better word.  But I found myself feeling just as obsessed as Julia was.  I won’t tell you that the story has a happy ending, how could it when you consider the subject matter?

I think, for me, the story raises all kinds of questions…why did we never study this part of the war in school?  What we studied made it seem that  the Nazis in Germany were solely responsible for all of the atrocities that occurred (and the Japanese as far as Pearl Harbor was concerned), but not that the police in other nations turned against their countrymen.   What else isn’t common knowledge?  Did the United States play some part in allowing so many of the powerful, wealthy Nazis to emigrate to South America, and if so, for what purpose?   I’m totally off focus here, but I told you the book would make you think…give it a read and let me know what you think.