Back to Sarah’s Key

The original US cover of Sarah's Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace?)

The original US cover of Sarah’s Key. (In which the Eiffel Tower strangely appears on the wrong side of Luxembourg Palace. Anyone else notice that or is it just me?)

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay was one of the first books I wanted to map out during my year in Paris. I read this book with my Chicago-based book club and never forgot it. I was determined to find the sites from the book and take some photos for my blog. My original post, with photos of the commemorative plaques and statues near the Eiffel Tower can be found right here.

I’ve been meaning to update that post for awhile now. Back in 2012, I made some new discoveries and went back to take some more photographs. How it happened is kind of cool.

I noticed that one of my favorite Paris bloggers (Richard Nahem of Eye Prefer Paris) had posted photos of the courtyard of the fictional apartment from Sarah’s Key. But wait! His photos were of 26, rue Saintonge in the Marais, and mine were from 32, rue Saintonge. Whoops!

I tweeted out to Richard (I’m @parisartclub, he’s @eyepreferparis) wondering about the mix-up, when who should tweet us back? Tatiana de Rosnay herself (what a treat!), explaining the reason for our confusion. Apparently, in the book Sarah’s address is 26, rue de Saintonge and in the movie it’s 32.

So then of course I had to go see the address from the book for myself. I good friend and fellow reader from Chicago was visiting and was game for a literary trek. We headed into the Marais (she had a recent travel article in hand about the hopping Haut-Marais) and we found ourselves near rue de Saintonge. “This way to Sarah’s house!” I pointed. Obviously, book lovers like me have a hard time distinguishing fact from fiction.

I found the bright blue doors at #26, just like Eye Prefer Paris had earlier. My friend and I also got the chance to peek in the courtyard, and we had a little “book club moment.” We looked up at the open windows, picturing Sarah’s old neighbor the music teacher, playing the violin as he sat in his window. Seriously, I think I wiped away a tear or two.

Here is the passage from Sarah’s Key that we recalled:

     Outside, the girl saw a neighbor wearing pajamas leaning out his window. He was a nice man, a music teacher. He liked playing the violin, and she liked listening to him. He often played for her and her brother from across the courtyard. Old French songs like “Sur le pont d’Avignon” and `A la claire fontaine,” and also songs from her parents’ country, songs that always got her mother and father dancing gaily, her mother’s slippers sliding across the floorboards, her father twirling her round and round, round and round until they all felt dizzy.

“What are you doing? Where are you taking them?” he called out.

His voice ran across the courtyard, covering the baby’s yells. The man in the raincoat did not answer him.

“But you can’t do this,” said the neighbor. “They’re honest good people! You can’t do this!”

At the sound of his voice, shutters began to open, faces peered out from behind curtains.

But the girl noticed that nobody moved, nobody said anything. They simply watched.



The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge

The bright blue doorway to 26 rue de Saintonge


The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah's Key at 36 rue de Saintonge, Paris

The fictional courtyard from the book Sarah’s Key at 26 rue de Saintonge, Paris. Can’t you just picture the nice man and his violin leaning out the window?


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The plaque on a nearby school. It says: "From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were Jews. MOre than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the elementary schools in this quarter. Let's Never Forget Them.

The plaque on a nearby school on rue des Quatre-Fils in the 3rd.  It says: “From 1942 to 1944, more than 11,000 children were deported from France by the Nazis with the active participation of the Vichy government of France and assassinated in death camps because they were born Jewish. More than 500 of these children lived in the 3rd arrondissement. A number of them went to the Ecoles Elementaires Filles et Garcons des Quatre-Fils.  Never Forget Them.














This is all probably a good reminder as we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Paris on August 25, 2014. Ne les oublions jamais.


Sarah’s Key Paris Sites

Sarah’s Key Paris Literary Tour Map

In Tatiana de Rosnay’s book Sarah’s Key, Sarah is a 10 year-old Jewish girl whose family is apprehended by the French police in the notorioius Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup on July 16, 1942.

In the pre-dawn hours of July 16th (just two days after Bastille Day) French police and members of a French fascist party collaborated with the occupying German authorities and began raiding Jewish homes and apartments throughout Paris, arresting over 13,000 adults and children.

Although most of those apprehended were eventually sent to extermination camps, they were first taken to a building known as the Vel’ d’Hiv’, or Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Cycling Track) located at the corner of the Boulevard de Grenelle and the rue Nelaton just west of the Eiffel Tower. The building was used for various events in the 1924 Olympics, and at the time of the roundup it was available for private rental. The Germans obtained the keys from the French owner, although it isn’t clear whether it was only through force or threat of force.

In the book, Tatiana de Rosnay depicts the appalling conditions at the Vel’ d’hiv through the eyes of 10 year-old Sarah. The prisoners were denied nearly all food, water and bathroom facilities. The windows were nailed shut to prevent escape, which made it even hotter inside. The prisoners were kept there for about five days, after which they were taken to different internment camps, including Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande and Pithiviers. Many were eventually sent to Auschwitz where they lost their lives.

A fire destroyed much of the velodrome in 1959. It was demolished and replaced with a group of anonymous looking government buildings. In 1993, Francois Mitterand commissioned a monument to be erected near the site on the edge of the Quai de Grenelle, and in 2008, a plaque was installed at the nearby Bir-Hakeim Metro Station. It was at a memorial service at the site in 1995 that Jacques Chirac issued an apology on behalf of the French government.

 Vel d’Hiv Plaque and The Monument of the Deportees

Take Line 6 of the Paris Metro to the Bir-Hakeim station near the Eiffel Tower. Near the exit of the station along Boulevard de Grenelle, you will see the plaque, which acknowledges that 13,152 Jews were arrested and held there under inhumane conditions by the Vichy government, under orders of the occupying Nazis.

Vel' d'Hiv Plaque

From the Metro station, walk north along Boulevard de Grenelle toward the Seine and cross to the opposite side of the Quai de Grenelle. There are a couple of entrances to the small park that contains the Vel’ d’hiv’ Momument.

The Square of the Jewish Matyrs of Vel' d'hiv: A quiet place to contemplate the sculpture.

A sculpture ". . . in homage to the victims of racist and antisemitic persecution and crimes against humanity committed pursuant to the authority of the French government. . . Never Forget."


Sarah’s Apartment at 36 rue de Saintonge

In the book, Sarah’s family lives at 36 rue de Saintonge, which is in the heart of the Marais district in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. The Marais was the home of a thriving Jewish community that was the focus of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Although this is a fictional address, it is entirely possible that round-ups would have occurred on this block.

The area is within a short walking distance from the Arts and Metiers or Rambuteau Metro stops. I walked there on a dark and cloudy afternoon. The street is narrow and the old buildings lean gently inward. The street still has some sense of its former life as an old working class neighborhood, with some old-fashioned mom-and-pop tailoring and butcher shops still standing. However, the neighborhood has been gentrified, and a trendy women’s boutique now stands on the ground floor of Sarah’s fictional apartment building.

It’s a chilling feeling to stand on the quiet street full of cheerfully colored bicycles and motor scooters and imagine what could have happened there nearly 70 years ago.


36 rue de Saintonge

The Shoah Memorial (Mémorial de la Shoah)

The Shoah Memorial was completed in 2005 and is a memorial, a museum and an archive dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. It is located at 17 rue Geoffroy l’Asnier in the 4th arrondissement. I walked from rue de Saintonge, but it’s also close to several Metro stations: Saint-Paul, Hotel de Ville and Pont Marie. It is open Sunday-Friday from 10am – 6pm. The Shoah Memorial is an intense experience, but sometimes it is necessary to be reminded of our shame and our loss.

Follow the signs from the Hotel de Ville, St.-Paul or Pont-Marie Metro stops.

The Shoah Memorial's Wall of Names

This entire Sarah’s Key literary tour could easily be accomplished in one day by hopping on and off the Metro. I can even recommend a nice cafe near the Arts et Metiers Metro Stop called Cafe des Arts et Metiers, at 51, rue de Turbigo. And of course there’s always the “best falafels in the world” at L’as du Falafel, 32 Rue des Rosiers in the Marais.

It will be a day you’ll probably never forget. If you haven’t already, pick up Sarah’s Key at your local independent bookstore and read its tragic but necessary story.