This past weekend, I finished reading Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosna for my book club. It was quite an emotional investment as it is with any work that deals with the Nazi occupation in Europe during the late 30’s and early 40’s.
I won’t even begin to try to put words to the experience of journeying through pages with the eyes and mind of a 10-year-old girl who is taken with her parents by the French police(her own countrymen) in the middle of the night to the Vel’ d’Hiv. Desperate to protect her four-year old brother from the police, before leaving her apartment, she locks him in a bedroom cupboard-their secret hiding place- and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Though a work of fiction, Sarah’s Key is based on the true story of the terrifying days of July 1942 when 13,152 (4,000 of which were children) Jewish victims were arrested and taken to a large bicycling race track and stadium. What they did not know was that the Vel’ d’Hiv was considered the French waiting room for Auschwitz.
I am not sure that I would have read this book if it were not assigned by my book club. In fact, I have picked it up before and after reading the back, set it down. I’m not shy about my literature, though there are certain things I cannot read or watch. But, there was something overwhelming about the premise of this book. Maybe it was experiencing something horrific through the eyes of a child, a child close to the same age as one of my own.
When I finished reading, I had a burdened heart. I am an “F” in my Myers Briggs assessment, which means I feel things very deeply. One of the secondary themes in this work was just how destructive keeping secrets can be about your past.
Sarah, the young girl, did managed to escape from the internment camp of Drancy before being taken to Auschwitz, and without spoiling the entire book, left for America in her 20’s in order to leave all of her memories behind in France. No one knew what she had been through as a child, and it haunted her for the rest of her life.
When children experience severe and unexplained trauma, they are left to draw their own conclusions about themselves and the world in which they live. They can spend a life time with a lens that is often skewed by their experiences and their own interpretations of those events, which perpetuates the lies they have come to believe as truth.
It takes so much courage to try to bring light into our own darkness.
Feeling heavy and torn by all of these themes swirling around in my head, I picked up a book of poetry by an author I have just discovered. It’s called The Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry. It is a compilation of his writings from over two decades of Sunday morning walks in meditation. I do not usually seek comfort in poetry, but he is a redeemed observer of the beauty of nature and of man, and I have really enjoyed his works.
I literally thumbed through the new book looking for anything that would lift my spirit. I NEVER would have expected to come across a poem about the Holocaust, but he had written something for his grand daughters after they had visited the Holocaust Museum. I felt like it was a gift because it helped me put words to all that I was experiencing but could not articulate. And it gave me peace and hope.
I love it when my words collide.
“Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,
for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine
though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.
You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be
the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
“For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.”