“Sarah’s Key” is the story of 10-year-old Sarah Strazynski. A French girl born to Jewish parents, Sarah and her family are rounded up in 1942 and held in the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris before being sent off to Auschwitz. The capture happens suddenly and not knowing what to do or understanding what would happen next, Sarah hides her baby brother in a secret cupboard in their apartment promising to come back when it was safe.
The story alternates between Sarah and her horrific journey, and American journalist Julia Jarmond. Julia has lived in Paris for many years and is married to a native Parisian. She is assigned a story about the anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv incident - an event she knew nothing about. As she digs deeper into the horrifying details of the roundup and the tragic path Sarah’s life took, she uncovers a dark secret her in-laws have kept hidden for 60 years.
This story was heartbreaking for me. Like Julia, I had never heard of the roundups in France. The most shocking thing about this dark part of history was that the Jewish people in France were not being captured and sent to concentration camps by Nazis or the Gestapo but by the French police and government.
The alternating story lines worked well to tie the two stories together. Although through no fault of de Rosnay’s writing, however, I found myself rushing through Julia’s narratives trying to get back to Sarah’s story as quickly as possible. Julia was a compelling and interesting character with a good story of her own, but there’s little that can compare to the heartbreak and devastation of the Holocaust and its victims.
As the story winds down and the holes are filled in, the book did get a little thin and predictable for me. However, this didn’t take away from the overall feeling of heartbreak and hope I was left with.
No matter how many Holocaust stories I have heard or read, I am always left with a sick feeling and absolute confusion at how people can be so cruel. And it never ceases to amaze me how the survivors can go on after living through such a terrible thing.
When I finish a book about the Holocaust, I always think that I’ve read about every horrible wrong that dark time held. But then along comes a book like “Sarah’s Key” that shows yet another devastating side to the unimaginable cruelty.
“Sarah’s Key” is a compelling look at a cruel time in our world’s history but also a look at hope and forgiveness.