this (for­tu­nate) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Pat Can­nard

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.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­

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