Essay on the Character Sarah Starzynski in Tatiana De Rosnay's Novel Sarah's Key

Never Forget

Sarah Starzynski, one of the protagonists in Tatiana De Rosnay's Sarah's Key, makes a horrific discovery after returning home subsequent to the tragic event of the Vel' d'Hiv in 1942. During this incident, she loses everyone who is important to her, including her brother, her parents, and a friend she makes as she escapes the horrible camp. The other leading character, Julia Jarmond, is a French journalist who lives in the year 2002 with her selfish husband, Bertrand, and charming daughter, Zoe. As Tatiana De Rosnay’s enlightening novel progresses, Sarah Strazynski does not share her dreadful and disturbing Holocaust experience with her own child or husband. She completely defies the Jewish principle: “Take utmost care and guard yourselves carefully so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from you mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children” (D’varim 4:9). This powerful and ethical concept is precisely what Sarah ignores as an adult after the brutal World War II. Sarah chooses to overlook her moral duty rather than embrace her opportunity to make her experience known along with pass down her story to her only son and husband.

Although one would think that an individual such as Sarah Strazynski would speak about her past: losing her brother on her own behalf because she could not return to save him, being separated from her parents at the camps, and being harbored by a generous family throughout the war; however, she does no such thing. For instance, Julia Jarmond, a journalist, years after Sarah’s death, meets up with Sarah Strazynski’s son, William Rainsfred. This meeting occurs a long time after the incident in order to discuss the event, but she realizes that he is positively oblivious about his mother’s story. Julia is shocked to find out that Sarah’s son is baffled about his mother’s Holocaust occurrence. In fact, his first reaction is to deny everything he hears concerning the subject.

No, she had not told them. She had not revealed her childhood, her origins, her religion. She had made a clean break with her terrible past... 'No. No, no. This is crazy. My mother was French. She was called Dufaure. She was born in Orleans. She lost her parents during the war. She had no brothers. She had no family. She never lived in Paris, in that rue de Saintonge. This little Jewish girl cannot be her. You've got this all wrong' (238-239).
Concluding that this new knowledge of his mother’s past is impossible, and she cannot be Jewish, William leaves with no respect, just the plead that Julia will not contact him again. But, Julia knows he will soon return for more information to soak in about his mother. Of course, she is right. Confronting her a short period of time after the meeting, William learns his mother’s true history and gives Julia a file to look at: a poem his mother wrote and hid from the family.

There is nothing left for me. I thought there was but I was wrong. A child and a husband are not enough. They know nothing. They don't know who I am. They will never know (261).

Clearly, Sarah believes that her new family is a way of escaping her past; yet, it is not. She never lives to tell William the truth because she commits suicide by purposely driving her car into a tree. Obviously, Sarah Strazynski could not bear feeling that her brother’s death is her fault. Truly, her experience of the Vel’ d’Hiv tears her apart, and also causes her to feel no more desire to live. Without a doubt, Sarah never meets terms with the Jewish concept of passing down her stories, thus she never expresses her true feelings or personality to her family.

Evidently, Sarah Strazynski, a Holocaust survivor, does not follow and ethical Jewish value of passing down history from generation to generation. On the contrary, she encloses her experience off from the world, and chooses that keeping her secret bottled up is better. Tatiana De Rosnay does a marvelous job in her novel by causing readers to feel the experience as well as relate to the characters.