“I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ “Then they are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.” Matthew 25:34-45 (The Message)
French author, Tatiana deRosney tells the story of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup of Jews in Paris July 16 and 17, 1942 in her book, Sarah’s Key. Using the experience of almost 14,000 Jews who were taken by the French Police from their homes and placed in a bicycle arena without food, water, medical care or toilets for six days before being transferred by railroad to Nazi concentration camps, deRosney speaks through a fictional eleven year old girl experiencing this horror and an American journalist reporting on plans to commemorate the event sixty years later. DeRosney carefully intertwines the lives of Sarah, the girl, and Julia, the journalist, and the impact on their families. It is a riveting tale, one of those books that is hard to read, but that you cannot put down until the end. I had trouble sleeping after I finished it as I processed all I learned. This is such a little known event in history. Even though almost all of the French Jews taken were killed, the French Government refused to acknowledge any role in the massacre for more than 50 years. The response of the French people to the capture of their neighbors sickened me. While a few stood up against the atrocity, risking their own lives for the Jewish people, most watched, but did nothing to stop it. Police Officers, who had interacted with the families for years, participated in sending them to their deaths. 4,000 of those captured were children. Once the Jewish people were “deported”, the Parisians moved into their homes and took over their businesses. I can put what happened into terms of my community. The town nearest my home is Palmetto and it has 14,000 residents. If this were to have happened here, our local police and sheriff’s departments would surround Palmetto in the night and begin arresting every single person in that town. They would take them to our local fairgrounds, lock them in the exhibit hall with only four toilets that would soon be overflowing and no food or water. Then, after six days, they would be marched through the town to the railroad and loaded onto cattle cars for transport. All within sight of everyone else in our county who would then, take advantage of their absence by taking their possessions. DeRosney also makes a tie between the killings of the Jews and modern day abortions as a pregnant Julia contemplates having an abortion at the same time as she unravels Sarah’s life sixty years before. Finally, I am struck by the fact, that like the Parisians, I stand by every day and watch people die. There are children starving in Guatemala and in my home town. There are babies dying in Sudan and in Florida. There are people whose homes are gone in Haiti and in the United States. What am I going to do about it? If I do nothing, I am just as guilty of murder and ignorance as the French were in 1942.