Tuesday September 6, 2011
We generally don’t think about the impact of anti-Seminitism on the occupied territories of Nazi expansionism. This weekend, we got a double dose. In a session on the history of Israel, we saw the stats. The countries that opposed the formation of the Israel as an independent state in 1948 became inhospitable for their Jewish populations. In countries like Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, as Arabs fled Palestine so Jews fled their home countries to what we now call Israel. (Jewish populations are nearly non-existent in Arab states). We know about the pogroms in Germany and Poland, but few of us know about the round up of Jews in occupied France. It happened in July of 1942, when French police assisted the Nazi army in extracting more than 13,000 Yellow Starred Jews from their homes and businesses and corralling them in a public stadium in Paris, the giant velodrome called Vél d’Hiv. The Nazi’s convinced city officials to halt the games, and use the facility as a holding station while the deportation was arranged. The conditions more than rivaled the horrible days that followed the catastrophic storm of 2005, Katrina, when thousands gathered for shelter at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Most of those detained in Paris during the war were shipped to camps (like Auschwitz) and few returned at war’s end. Sometimes it takes a combination of fiction and history to draw us in to the power of these historical events.
In 2002, Julia Jarmond stumbles across the story when she and her husband rent an apartment in Paris. She learns that the building was stormed by police during the war and that all the occupants who were Jewish were removed from their homes and taken to the famous Velodrome (long since destroyed) and then shipped off to Germany. She remembered that President Jacques Chirac publicly apologized to the Jewish people in 1995 in a well publicized speech. An American journalist living in France, Julia convinces her managing editor to commit to an exposé in the historic incident on the sixtieth anniversary of the episode. Her younger colleagues knew very little about the events surrounding the Holocaust. She got the green light, and pursued her research and writing, producing a piece that got a wide audience and high praise.
Sarah, age ten in 1942, is terrified by the invasion of their home. Her father hides in the cellar. Her mother tries to fend off the police. Sarah and her younger brother are perplexed, but they understand the danger. Sensing that they will be taken, she hides him in a closet, and then, along with her mother and father, are taken against their will to the Velodrome with thousands of others where they suffer in waiting, no facilities or food, for more than a week.
In her novel, French author Tatiana de Rosnay develops a story that is an intentional mixture of fiction and non-fiction. It is a story of family and loss and love and hope. This year, the novel is now a full length feature film. Carolyn and I talked for an hour, trying to unpack the reasons why it had such a powerful impact on both of us.
The critics, it turns out, haven’t been so kind. It’s just as well that we did not read them before we sent to see the film. They complain that the two story lines don’t mesh. We don’t agree.
History understood impacts the way we live, they way we think and the way we interact with others. Our world, it seems, has little time and little sense for historic perspectives. I wish I knew why I needed to get to this stage in life before I understood the power of history.
Sarah’s tragic journey is a gripping tale about the bond of family that inspires courage and determination. Julia’s quest for understanding leads to a new degree of self-awareness, breaking open secrets to find healing. And in the often tragic sweep of history, stories of bravery emerge, inspiring us to find our own courage against all odds.
Sarah’s Key unlocks many doors. Don’t read the critics. Go see for yourself.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011