Sarah’s Key

Sarah’s Key

Rywka Starzynski Character Analysis

Sarah’s mother, also from Poland. Before the war, Rywka was cheerful and outgoing. She laughed often and was an attentive mother and compassionate neighbor. She even helped nurse Madame Royer’s baby, a detail which makes it all the more devastating that Madame Royer is the one to sell out the Starzynski family to the French police. Rywka’s joyful personality is destroyed by the events of 1942, as she becomes completely paralyzed by the horror her family experiences. Following the roundup and for much of the time that Rywka and Sarah spend at Beaune-la-Rolande, Rywka is essentially catatonic. Sarah expresses frustration over what she sees as her mother’s helplessness, and she even begins to feel that her mother is “already dead.” However, when the French police at Beaune-la-Rolande brutally separate the Jewish mothers and children, Sarah witnesses her mother come alive again, fighting the police off of her in order to hug her daughter one final time. She also offers Sarah “a tiny, brave smile” before she is also transported away on convoy 15. Rywka is thus a complex character, at once a mixture of crippling naiveté and loving courage.

Rywka Starzynski Quotes in Sarah’s Key

The Sarah’s Key quotes below are all either spoken by Rywka Starzynski or refer to Rywka Starzynski . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the St. Martin’s Press edition of Sarah’s Key published in 2008.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The mother pulled her daughter close to her. The girl could feel the woman’s heart beating through her dressing gown. She wanted to push her mother away. She wanted her mother to stand up straight and look at the men boldly, to stop cowering, to prevent her heart from beating like that, like a frightened animal’s. She wanted her mother to be brave.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Rywka Starzynski
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13 Quotes

As she looked at Eva and her mother, the girl wondered if her parents had been right to protect her from everything, if they had been right to keep disturbing, bad news away fro her. If they had been right not to explain why so many things had changed from them since the beginning of the war. Like when Eva’s husband never came back last year. He had disappeared. Where? Nobody would tell her. Nobody would explain. She hated being treated like a baby. She hated the voices being lowered when she entered the room.

If they had told her, if they had told her everything they knew, wouldn’t that have made today easier?

Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 19 Quotes

The one who smelled a warm, comforting, motherly smell: delicious cooking, fresh soap, clean linen. The one with the infectious laugh. The one who said that even if there was a war, they’d pull through, because they were a strong, good family, a family full of love.
That woman had little by little disappeared. She had become gaunt, and pale, and she never smiled or laughed. She smelled rank, bitter. Her hair had become brittle and dry, streaked with gray.
The girl felt like her mother was already dead.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Rywka Starzynski
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 21 Quotes

In that sheltered, gentle life that seemed far away, the girl would have believed her mother. She used to believe everything her mother said. But in this harsh new world, the girl felt she had grown up. She felt older than her mother. She knew the other women were saying the truth. She knew the rumors were true. She did not know how to explain this to her mother. Her mother had become like a child.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Rywka Starzynski
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 27 Quotes

She had grown up too much to be afraid anymore. She was no longer a baby. Her parents would be proud of her. That’s what she wanted them to be. Proud because she had escaped from that camp. Proud because she was going to Paris, to save her brother. Proud, because she wasn’t afraid.
She fell upon the tar with her teeth, gnawing at her mother’s minute stitches. Finally, the yellow piece of cloth fell away from the blouse. She looked at it. Big, black letters. JEW. She rolled it up in her hands.
“Doesn’t it look small, all of a sudden?” she said to Rachel.

Related Symbols: The Yellow Star
Page Number: 97-98
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Rywka Starzynski Character Timeline in Sarah’s Key

The timeline below shows where the character Rywka Starzynski appears in Sarah’s Key. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
...family’s cellar due to recent arrests of Jewish men. Sarah rushes to awaken her mother, Rywka, who opens the door, expecting the “green-gray suits” of the Germans, but finding instead two... (full context)
Chapter 5
Identity Theme Icon
Back in 1942, the policemen consult a list and realize that “there’s a child missing.” Rywka lies again, saying her “brother” is not present, but the police don’t believe her and... (full context)
Chapter 7
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
Back in 1942, the policemen lead Rywka and Sarah away from their apartment building as the neighbors watch silently from their windows.... (full context)
Chapter 9
Identity Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
Sarah, Rywka, and Wladyslaw are led into a large garage, where they wait along with many other... (full context)
Chapter 19
Identity Theme Icon
...the barracks, Sarah hardly recognizes her mother, who is now “gaunt, and pale.” She feels Rywka is “already dead.” (full context)
Chapter 21
Guilt Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
...are going to be separated from their children and transported east to a work camp. Rywka doubts the rumor but Sarah suspects it to be true. When the policemen enter the... (full context)
Chapter 32
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...will not publish the information. Lévy is able to find information that indicates Wladyslaw and Rywka were transported from the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp on convoy 15, which Julia knows traveled directly... (full context)