Tatiana de Rosnay’s Author’s note in her novel Sarah’s Key asserts that the characters in the novel are entirely fictitious. “But several of the events described are not, especially those that occurred in Occupied France during the summer of 1942, and in particular the great Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup, which took place on July 16, 1942, in the heart of Paris.
“This is not a historical work and has no intention of being one. It is my tribute to the children of the Vel’d’Hiv’. The children who never came back. And the ones who survived to tell.”
One of the booknuts (hah!) mentioned last night in the Book Nuts reading group that she read this book and was moved by it – and learned some things she had not known about France during World War II.
I’ve only read some of the book (put it aside to read another . . . so many books!), but I will definitely finish reading it. On the book jacket:
PARIS, JULY 1942: Sarah, a ten-year-old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard–their secret hiding place–and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
SIXTY YEARS LATER: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.
The operation that became known as the round-up of the Vél d’Hiv began at 4am on Thursday July 16, 1942.Some 4,500 French policemen took part. The 12,884 victims – including 4,051 children – were held briefly in schools and police stations throughout Paris, then herded into municipal buses and driven away.
Some 7,000 of them, foreign, stateless and French Jews, men women and children, spent five days in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, the winter cycling stadium, on rue Nélaton in the capital’s 15th arrondissement, without food and with one water tap between them.
From there, families were sent to two camps in the Loiret district, where the children were separated from their parents. Single adults and couples without children were mostly taken straight to the Drancy transit camp just beyond the Paris ringroad.
Almost all of them ended up in Auschwitz. La rafle du Vél d’Hiv, Operation Spring Wind for the German occupiers, marked the start of the mass round-ups of Jews in France. Of the 33,000 rounded up and deported over the next two months around the country, 2,600 returned.
The Vélodrome d’Hiver itself no longer exists. But nearby, at the place de Martyrs-Juifs, is a monument where the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, will lay a wreath this Sunday in a ceremony also attended by the defence minister, the mayor of Paris, officials from the Jewish community and a handful of survivors.