On Friday, my wife and I watched the 2010 movie “Sarah’s Key,” starring Kristin Scott Thomas and based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. The movie is two stories that become one story – an American journalist (played by Thomas) named Julia Jarmond living in Paris with her French husband and teenaged child, and a young girl caught up in the Vel d’Hiv – the roundup of more than 13,000 Jewish men, women and children in 1942 Paris for eventual transport to Auschwitz.
The name “Vel d’Hiv” is taken from the name of the bicycling velodrome where the 13,000 people were brought – with no sanitation and no food.
The journalist is doing a story on the event, but the story takes a turn for the personal. The apartment in the Marais where her in-laws lived for more than 60 years, where her husband was raised, and which she and her husband are remodeling prior to moving into – belonged to a Jewish family who disappeared in the Vel d’Hiv.
The journalist is drawn into the story of this family, and what her in-laws did and didn’t know. Then she discovers she is pregnant. She’s been told she couldn’t have more children. She’s thrilled – but her husband isn’t. He doesn’t want his life to be disrupted, and he doesn’t want to be “an older father.” He wants his wife to abort the baby.
The movie is about many things, but it asks the question, can one live without hope? Can one escape from internment and certain death only to find a more difficult prison to escape from – the prison of memory and guilt and the prison of one’s own mind? The character of Sarah will answer the question one way; the character of Julia Jarmond will answer it another way.
That was our Friday night. On Saturday, we attended a talk by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, He is a marvelous speaker and possesses a marvelous intellect. He talked about his latest book, Why Jesus: Rediscovering His Truth in An Age of Mass-Marketed Spirituality, and a lot of other things as well. And he said this:
“The most empirically identifiable fact, and the most intellectually resisted fact, is the depravity of man.”
The scenes from the movie kept running through my mind as I listened. I suspect the movie, as good as it was, ultimately can’t truly convey the horror of what those 13,000 people experienced, and the six million other Jews, and the five million Poles, Russians, resistance fighters, homosexuals and others who died in the Nazi death camps.
We want to believe we are all basically good, that it’s culture or society or something else that causes us to do bad things. Most people don’t rob or kill or hurt or maim, right? We know that if something like the Holocaust confronted us, we would stand up for people, right?
Or would we close our eyes, shut our doors, pull down our curtains and hope they don’t come for us? Or help the authorities round up the Jews, like so many Parisians did? Or separate the fathers from their families, and then the mothers from their children, and send them off on separate trains to the east?
Twenty years ago, a vice president at the People for the American Way suggested that fundamentalist Christians needed to be exterminated. She was criticized for her words, but not much criticized.
Peter Singer, a professor of something called “applied ethics” at Princeton University, criticizes the pro-abortion position by saying they’re attacking the wrong premise – that life begins at conception. The premise to attack, he says, is that it’s wrong to kill an innocent human being, because these kinds of decisions should be based upon a “utilitarian calculation” that compares the preferences of a woman against the preferences of a fetus.
And how exactly does the fetus express its preferences?
The problem is not society or culture. And it’s not “the devil made me do it.” The problem is within us.
Zacharaias also said this: “Maybe we should stop asking if Jesus died on the cross and instead ask why he died on the cross.”
A most thought-provoking post and so very true. You have given us all amazing food for thought.
How very compelling... That preview makes me want to cry. Your description of the movie, as usual, makes me want to watch it, in spite of the pain.
Your conclusion is true. The only hope we have in our depravity is Christ, covering us.
Man, I was just doing a little reading and sipping my coffee -- and you throw this down.
I read Sarah's Key -- the book was heart-breaking; I thought the journalist over-stepped -- but I don't know all that the movie covered. The novel educated me on that particular "act" of WW2. I'm not sure I had heard of it until this novel. I asked myself the same questions when I read it -- what would I have done? I hate to ponder that....
*nods about Glynn's other comments"
This made me laugh "something called applied ethics" -- bwha.
I am finishing a Bible study on Paul, and in studying him, we read James. James makes it clear -- it's our selfish desires that cause it all. That we must pray to be released from...
Come on, Glynn. *smiles*
Excellent post. Thank you. I haven't seen "Sarah's Key" yet, but I notice it's on Netflix. I'll take a look. I love Holocaust stories. Thanks.
I recently watched "I Am David" (based on "North to Freedom" by Anne Holm) and "Rabbit Proof Fence" (true-story based on "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington Garimara). Both tore at the gut and heart and revealed more history that I was unaware of. Hope was in both, but in the latter, it came solely from within the victim, and that movie was the hardest to watch.
"Silence in the face of evil, in itself is evil." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) When Spirit-led humanity reaches through the bowels of society's atrocities, then there is Hope. Of course it originated on the cross, but ordinary people who can answer your last question with humility and grace are those who will stand up to evil, also offering Hope.
Like Harriett said, this is some tough stuff, but that doesn't make it any less real.
Thank you for your insight and sharing and wisdom, sir Glynn.
I was invited to and attended yesterday Yom Ha'Shoah, our region's Holocaust Observance. The keynote was given by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who spoke about corporate complicity and restitution. It is a sad fact that more than 60 years later the issue of restitution remains difficult and divisive.
Much in the observance was moving, including the stories read aloud about the extraordinary acts of the Righteous, but for me especially moving was the lighting of the candles. Some 17 Holocaust survivors were present and gathered in groups to light candles one through 4, and their children and grandchildren candle five. (The remaining candle was lit by esteemed guests.) Those survivors are the answer to the evil of the Nazis; they proudly say, "We are here!" The light from those candles is the answer to the killing that continues to this day all over the world.
What would we have done? Indeed, "applied ethics" makes that a non-abstract question. Anyone who cannot answer the question knowing how he or she would act might want to reflect further on the meaning of the word "humanity".
So many questions
and only one answer
I read the book; I appreciate that you didn't leave us comforted.
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