The Vel' d'Hiv was the darkest hour in France’s involvement in the Second World War. On July 16 and 17, 1942, the French police began a roundup of 13,152 Jewish men, women, and children living in Paris. The families were kept in appalling conditions at the Velodrome d'Hiver before being sent to internment camps within France and finally being sent to Auschwitz. The action was sanctioned by the Nazis but that level of coordination, identification, and organisation would only have been possible with the cooperation of French police and government officials. Quite simply, the Vel’ d’Hiv was part of a greater plan to reduce the number of Jewish people living in occupied France.
There were very few survivors of that fateful event in Paris. Once they arrived at the internment camps such as Drancy and Beaune-la-Rolande, the men were immediately separated from the women and children and then the women were separated too. In the end, all of the men, women, and approximately 4,000 children were sent to Auschwitz. There was no selection process for the children; they were sent straight to the gas chambers on arrival at Auschwitz.
It was a dark time in France’s history and something that was not spoken about or acknowledged by the French for years. In fact, it was only in 1995 that then president Jacques Chirac stated that France needed to own up to their part in the roundups and to acknowledge their complicity with the Germans.
Against the backdrop of this momentous event, French author Tatiana de Rosnay has written the novel Sarah’s Key. Set in 2002, the novel is about an American journalist, Julia Jarmond, who is living in Paris and is married to a Frenchman, Bertrand. As the 60th anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv approaches, Julia is asked to write a piece about the events of 1942 and the upcoming commemorations. As Julia begins to learn more about this event, she begins to uncover some painful secrets that Bertrand’s family had tried to keep hidden for sixty years. The deeper Julia digs, the more obsessed she becomes and everything comes to a head when she learns that she is pregnant.