On Friday 16 of July of 1942 , Sarah and her family are arrested at his home in Paris by the French and taken to the Velodrome d’Hiver gendarmes. But not all the Starzynski family is moved, because Michel, Sarah’s four-year-old brother, is hidden in the closet of her Paris flat, where the girl thinks she will be safe. Sarah closes the door on the outside and stays with the key that opens the hiding place. She and her parents, after spending several days in inhuman conditions along with thousands of other Jews, are taken to a concentration camp where separated men of women and children spend infernal days. Afterwards, they are transferred again, first the men, who are followed a day later by the women, leaving the children with the only company of the French police who watch them. Sarah escapes accompanied by her friend Rachel, but passes that to its sick friend. They come to the house of an old couple who do not want to help them. The next day the husband finds them and spent the night in his barn. Rachel is taken care of, but she dies. Sarah confesses her story.
In May 2002 Julia Jarmond, a US journalist based in Paris for twenty years, commissioned an article related to the sixtieth anniversary of the raid against the Jews by the French Gendarmerie. Julia, married to Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has an eleven-year-old daughter named Zoë, will gradually discover the events of the fateful year 1942 and the story of Sarah, directly related to her political family, the Tézac. After this discovery, she will not rest until she knows the fate of the young Sarah and her relationship with her husband’s family.
Characters: Sarah, Julia, Bertrand, Zoë, Mamé, Edouard, Jules, Geneviève, Amélie, Rachel.
This book is a novel based on real events during the period of Nazi occupation in France. It intersects the present with the 1940s, so that it alternates in each chapter at one time or another, telling two different but related stories.
In the 1940s, we encountered the raid that took place in Paris, where many Jewish families were arrested, including a girl named Sarah. On the night of the arrest, the police violently called her house asking them and her mother to pack for three days and to accompany them. The husband is hidden, the police ask for him, his wife responds that he did not know where he was, that he was away for several days. Sarah sees her brother, whom the police had not seen and, without thinking, hides him in a secret locker, throws the key outside, and she and her mother leave with the police. When she leaves the house, the woman shouts the name of her husband, who appears and is also arrested in the middle of people watching from the windows, some astonished, others outraged by what happens, and others supporting the operation. It is the French police who carry out the arrests, they have received orders from Germany to arrest the Jews, and they did.
Sarah’s family travels by train to a camp on the outskirts of Paris, where authorities target all Jews. In the countryside there is no food or drink, people die slowly dehydrated, from hunger, from heat. Sarah is increasingly worried about her brother, whom she left in the closet with some water and food, which surely would have been finished. She is dirty, but she has nowhere to wash, she feels ashamed because she smells bad, just like everyone else around her. She does not know what happens since no one explains it to her, and she sees her parents increasingly declining. His father continually asks him why he should wear the star of David sewn to his clothes, why they are there, were they bad? But his father can not explain anything to him. She has heard that all who have that badge are considered pigs, bad people, criminals, but she does not understand why from one day to another they are stigmatized that way. She also wonders if she would stop being the kind of people when she took the star away but she would still be the same girl … Sarah is very confused.
Shortly thereafter they brutally and quickly separate men from women and children. There is no time for farewells, the men take them to a train sealed directly to Auschwitz. In the train there is no food or drink, not even latrines, which makes the journey long and tiring. Many die before reaching the concentration camp. The mother is dismayed, she does nothing but cry because she knows what is happening, she has sent her husband to death. Soon after, they separate the children from their mothers, many of whom resist and are beaten to faint. Sarah loses consciousness due to the fever and tension of the moment and awakens 3 days later in a camp surrounded by children and locked up behind high fences watched by soldiers who prevent them from having contact with the field of adults. Although they were guaranteed some comfort if they behaved, Sarah decides to escape along with another girl, Rachel. Before passing the gate, they are stopped by a guard, whom Sarah recognizes as the guard who allowed him to take a fruit that an adult passed him from the other side of the fence. He asks her to let them go and then hesitates a few seconds, the guard himself lifts the wires so they can escape. He advises them not to stop and when they are safe they remove the stars of David from their clothes to have no problems.
After wandering for a few hours they come to a farm, where the farmers are an elderly couple who welcome, bathe and care for them. But Sarah’s partner is very ill, they should call the doctor. The trusted family doctor is gone and they have no choice but to call an army doctor at risk of finding Sarah and declaring them traitors. Unfortunately Rachel dies and the doctor takes his body in a police car, since the guards had detected the two girls missing from the field and were looking for them, although they did not find Sarah despite registering the house.
Sarah insists on going to town, to her house, she would go alone if necessary, she must know what happened to her brother. The couple hints that his brother must have died. Even so convinces them to go to the city, the house of Sarah’s family. They take the train, where they find many soldiers and disguise Sarah as a man so that they do not identify her and even bribe the guard who collected the tickets with money. An officer approaches and tells the couple that his grandson is very handsome, like the Germans: blond and with clear eyes, which makes Sarah think, who understood that a Jew was recognized with the naked eye but without However, they did not recognize her and, furthermore, they believed that she was a child.
They arrive at the house, they knock on the door and a child opens the door; Sarah pushes him and runs to the closet, opens with his key, the key he had kept for so long, only to find the frightening sight of a rotting little corpse. The boy and the father who lived in the house are astonished, knew nothing, and feel guilty. The man decides not to tell his wife, who was away from home when everything happened, and to contribute money to the elderly couple so that they can keep Sarah as well as possible. The man asks them not to tell the girl anything, and they keep the secret.
Sarah continues to live with the elderly into adulthood, emigrates to the United States, where she marries and has a son, but keeps silent about her past until she commits suicide with her car for the thoughts that have plagued her for so many years.
In 2002, Julia is a journalist married to Bertrand Tézac, with whom she has a daughter named Zoë. They are going to move to the apartment of the grandmother of her husband but it has to remodel it, so that they visit it to study what changes have to realize. Julia has a new theme for an article, the raid of the Winter Velodrome. She is an American who lives in Paris and knows nothing of that fact or the arrested Jews, so the article attracts him a lot.
She begins to investigate, accompanied by her photographer, and they both realize how little they know. They find an elderly witness and go to her house to interview her. She tells them that from her window she saw how all those people were leaving, many people in the street, getting on buses, no one knew where they were taking them or why. People were very confused and there were more and more empty floors in the city, which were quickly occupied by other families.
Julia visits Mamé, Bertrand’s grandmother very often. Since they were going to live in his apartment he comments on the changes they make. He asks how they got the apartment back then, because in that area they used to be Jewish apartments that were sold or rented to other families. She is very old and says she does not remember. One day she receives a call from her father-in-law, Edouard, who questions her for asking about the apartment and tells her not to ask Mama more about the apartment. It does so in a tone that, on the contrary, arouses in Julia a greater curiosity and urges him to continue inquiring. However, Julia keeps her promise not to ask her husband’s grandmother any more. This, for his part, also insists that he abandon that topic, and warns that his article will be of little interest to the public as it is a delicate and very painful subject that people do not want to remember.
Julia wonders how the Tézac were able to move to that apartment without asking what had happened to the family that lived there. It seemed embarrassing not to worry about what happened: there were many families and the Parisians did not wonder where all those people went that never came back. Julia begins to have delays in her menstruation, but does not think that she is pregnant since before having to Zoë had undergone several abortions and had been many years since the birth of Zoë. However, the pregnancy test gives positive results. She keeps the news secret for a while, but decides to participate to her husband, who wanted to have children. Julia stays with her husband in the restaurant where he asked for marriage, and where he also learned that he was cheating on her with another woman. To his amazement, when he gives the news, this one tells him that it is best to have an abortion because he does not want to be a father again at the age of fifty.
Julia continues with her research and thinking about the baby, that baby that had cost him so much and that now he should have an abortion because his husband rejects him. Witnesses continue to appear, whom they interview to complete the article. Likewise, Julia and the photographer visit many places, to realize the few memories that had happened. Julia tries to know who lived in that apartment that was to become her family home, and the Internet quickly gives them the name and a photo of Sarah Starzynski, ten years, a year younger than her daughter. When comparing her to Zoë, she was troubled by the questions: had she killed this girl or her whole family? Julia suspects more and more of her political family, since they did not let her talk about the subject, and she is convinced that they hide something. He wants to find out at all costs what it was about that girl, so he returns to the apartment to see if he finds a new clue. Find out where the camp was where they gathered the Jews, also visit the cemetery. In the field there are now students and a monument on which is written a long list of names of deportees, including Sarah’s father and mother. Again they blame Nazi barbarism, as on every plate they encounter, in which it is mentioned that they were victims of the Germans. But Julia thinks that they were the culprits, because it was the French police who arrested all those people and took her to death.
Julia decides to tell her sister about the situation with the new baby. This one says to him that it is not only son of its husband but also is its son, reason why she had to decide on the matter. Julia informs her husband that she wants to have him, and he replies that if he has the boy he will divorce her because he does not want to be a father at that age, and that he should abort if he wants to stay with him.
The next day, Julia goes to visit her husband’s grandmother and finds Edouard there. After the visit, his father-in-law tells him that they moved house when he was a child and that one day came a girl who came pushing and opened a closet whose existence they ignored. His father and he discovered inside the corpse of a small child. They knew nothing, they thought that the stink of stench was due to a pipe, so they had called the plumber, but the closet was hidden and did not look there. Her father told her not to say anything to her mother, that is, to Bertrand’s grandmother, and that was why she did not want Julia to continue questioning her. In this way Julia learns of everything that happened and, furthermore, that Sarah had been saved, that she could still live. However, no one in the family knows anything. When Grandfather died, he had several confidential documents stored in a safe, but his son Edouard never opened them and only now will he do so, hoping to find something related to Sarah. Now they both want to know what happened to that girl.
Arriving home, Julia finds an envelope with her name on the table. Inside is a folder bearing the name Sarah and contains many documents related to the girl, including letters that the grandfather wrote to the couple of elders to send the money, which Sarah knew nothing about.
Julia decides to abort and goes to the clinic alone since her husband is on a business trip. He takes Sarah’s file to investigate, and there he finds the surname of the elderly couple, Dufaure, a common surname, so he thinks it would be difficult for them to track them down. Begin to consult telephone directories and call to see if you can find out anything else. In one of the calls it finds the relatives of the Dufaure, even its interlocutor says to have heard speak of Sarah, but of Sarah Dufaure. The woman on the phone says she can talk to her grandfather, Jules Dufaure, who would let her know what she wanted to know. At that moment the nurse enters, who informs her that it is time to practice the abortion. Julia refuses and leaves the clinic. Sarah’s last letter from the United States was one in which she was married, and then the elders lost track of her.
Once at home, Julia informs her husband that she did not miscarry, and that she knew what that entailed. They send Zoë to the United States with Julia’s family, then she would also travel to be with her daughter and follow Sarah’s trail. Once in the United States, she visits her sister, who helps her find Sarah’s last name, Rainsferd, and they find an address. Julia goes there, where a woman tells him that she is now married to Sarah’s husband, and that Sarah had died in a car accident, although she had actually committed suicide. Julia is very touched by the news, but they also tell her that Sarah had a son named William, from whom they give the address in Italy. Julia starts the trip to visit him, accompanied by Zoë. Julia tells William the whole truth he did not know. William refuses to believe a stranger and leaves very angry. After the interview, Julia feels dizzy and her daughter warns her that she has blood between her legs, so she returns home to receive medical attention.
Mamé, the grandmother of Bertrand, suffers a stroke and dies. Julia is about to leave when she finds William at the door of his house. He accompanies her and Julia tells Edouard, his father-in-law, about whom. William thanks him and Julia gives him all the information at his disposal. Edouard tells the family what happened and reflects on how there are always differences of opinion about whether or not to remove the past.
Years later, Julia and Zoë are going to live in New York. Julia divorced her husband and had her second daughter. She wonders what will have happened to William and if he thought about her and what happened. He discovers that he had also returned to the United States, but does not dare to phone him. One day Julia receives a call from William. In a later encounter, she introduces her younger daughter, Sarah. He is surprised by the name of the girl and Julia feels remorse for reminding her of her roots.
This work is inspired by the events suffered in Paris in the summer of 1942 but, as its author Tatiana de Rosnay points out , the characters are fictitious.
In 2010 she was brought to the cinema by the director Gilles Paquet-Brenner , with the original title of the novel Elle s’appelait Sarah (in Spanish, La llave de Sarah ).