At work, Julia receives an assignment from her boss, Joshua, to write an article about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of 1942, in light of the upcoming sixtieth commemoration. Julia accepts the assignment, even though she is only vaguely familiar with the roundup. Joshua suggests Julia start her research by tracing survivors and witnesses of the roundup. He recommends she contact Franck Lévy, founder of a local association that “help[s] Jewish people find their families after the Holocaust.”
The upcoming Vel’ d’Hiv’ commemoration represents an important attempt on the part of French society to grapple with France’s role in the Holocaust. As Julia begins her research, she will quickly discover that acknowledging historical trauma and wrongdoing is a particularly difficult task for the French, who are averse to the idea that the French government and non-Jewish civilians collaborated with the Nazis.
Julia heads to her office and begins her research, only to find that many of the books on the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup are out of print or hard to acquire. This piques her interest, as does the devastating fact that four thousand French Jewish children between the ages of two and twelve were arrested in the roundup and ultimately murdered in concentration camps.
Julia gets her first taste of the profound silence that surrounds the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup. She will spend the rest of the novel working against this amnesiac tendency within her husband’s family, as she fights to uncover the history of Mamé’s apartment on rue de Saintonge.