Sarah’s Key
The reason we have to keep telling the story of the Holocaust is because there are some people alive today who have never heard of it. Or, even if they have, in their minds it is consigned to the dustbin of history, along with….say, The Napoleonic Wars, with about the same emotional content. Somehow we need to keep this personal, and vivid, and contemporary. As if it’s really true that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.
Yes, we all know that the Nazis rounded up Jews and sent them to the “concentration” camps from which they never returned---all over occupied Europe . But did you also know that on at least one occasion the roundup was done by the French police? It was so systemically brutal….First, roust them from their homes, then detain them in a big stadium with no explanations….then separate the men from the women…then the women from the children. Transport them separately to the “work camps.” Deal visibly violently with any complainers, and the rest will be subdued. And thus isolated, disconnected, alienated, beaten down, and deprived, there’s no fight left in them. And, of course, their homes are re-possessed and taken over by others, and their possessions ransacked. The horrible secret of Occupied France is how complicit, even cooperative, they really were. Of course they don’t want to talk about it.
Sarah Starzynski (Melusine Mayance) was a mere child in 1942, when she had to watch her family go through all this. When the soldiers came, she’d locked her little brother in the closet of their apartment, promising she’d come back for him. She told him it was a game of hide and seek, and he believed her. It wasn’t her fault, of course. But she blamed herself, anyway. Her incredible load of anxiety caused her, at least, to be able to escape, but…..to a kind of hellish existence of survivor guilt that can’t be assuaged even by the kindness of strangers.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays Julia Jarmond, an American journalist who’s “gone native” in Paris and married a Frenchman (art imitating life), but the apartment which her husband’s family inherits from the grandparents turns out to have ghosts of generations past.
The story in “Sarah’s Key” is told alternately from the present day back to those horrible World War Two years, when so many were displaced, so many were tragically brutalized…and we’re not even talking about battlefields and invasions. In fact, there’s nothing about the conduct of the combat at all. Just the incredible effect it had on the hapless populace, who suffered the full effects of the terrible consequences of all those battles fought and lost.
Yes, there are those in this generation who are unaware of any of this, and even those who didn’t think they were personally affected, but then realize, to their amazement, that it involved their families, as well. The point is clear: as part of the human family, this is family history for us all.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas