this (fortunate) life
THE year was 1942. The egregiously acquisitive Hitler was urging his troops on to further and further victory over other nations.
Despite her Aryan appearance, a 10-year-old girl called Sarah was among the thousands of Jewish people rounded up by the French police. More than 4000 children were among those herded into the Velodrome d’Hiv before being transported to a concentration camp in Poland as part of Hitler’s “final solution”.
Families were separated and mothers screamed as their children were forcibly removed from them.
Sarah is the main character in a book titled Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and is a fictional character yet representative of those who suffered under the Nazi regime. Sarah escaped and, through the generosity of a French couple who hide her, survives, but her family does not. (In reality none of the children rounded up in Paris on that day survived.)
In the same year I was a 10-year-old girl living in a border town in Australia that had become a stores and ammunition depot as well as a staging post for thousands of Australian troops heading into the Pacific area to fight the Japanese. My circumstances could not have been more different to Sarah’s. I lived in a house with my parents and two sisters; I had warm clothes, food to eat, a bed to sleep in and each day happily ran off to school just around the corner.
I realised later that the restrictions placed on my freedom by my parents were to protect me, yet I never felt the need to rebel against their rules.
I was a happy child, secure and safe, wrapped in love with no thought of being afraid of being separated from other members of the family. Unlike Sarah, whose experience of the soldiers who moved into her city was one of fear and trembling because they were the enemy, I held no fear or hatred of the soldiers in my town. While she sat shivering in the open without food or water, I had fun sitting on a hillside at an open-air picture show that the army had set up. Our neighbours were our friends; Sarah’s neighbours betrayed her family to the police.
To escape her memories of Paris, Sarah, as a young woman, moved to the US, married and never informed her husband and family of her past.
I have returned to my home town several times and share with my family the experiences of my childhood.
Although the book’s Sarah is not real, I believe there are many Sarahs in the world who would weep when reading her story and recall their own lives as Jewish children in Europe during the Nazi occupation.
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