Sarah’s Key

Sarah’s Key

Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski Character Analysis

One of the novel’s two protagonists, along with Julia. Ten-year-old Sarah is arrested with her parents during the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of 1942. Although both her parents are deported to and murdered at Auschwitz, Sarah manages to escape the internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande and return to Paris in search of her brother, whom she locked into a secret cupboard for safety on the night of the roundup. Sarah is devastated when she returns to her former apartment and finds her brother, Michel, dead. According to other characters who knew her, such as Gaspard Dufaure (who grew up as Sarah’s adoptive brother), Sarah was never the same after her brother’s death. As a child, Sarah was energetic and hopeful, but as a young woman she is described as serious and melancholy, a young woman who seems much older than her actual age. By the end of the novel, Julia discovers that Sarah’s death in a car accident at age forty was a suicide. The deep grief that Sarah carried with her is hinted at through her journal entries, which surface toward the end of the novel. In her journal, an adult Sarah wrote that she could not bear the grief of her family’s death, and that she often wants to die. Sarah was thus completely changed by her experiences during World War Two, demonstrating incredible bravery but also becoming bitter and depressed. Sarah is referred to as “the girl” for the first third of the novel. Eventually, it is revealed that she is called Sirka (a childhood nickname), but after her friend Rachel is taken away by the Nazis, Sirka asks to be called by the more grownup name Sarah.

Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski Quotes in Sarah’s Key

The Sarah’s Key quotes below are all either spoken by Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski or refer to Sarah “Sirka” 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:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Sarah’s Key quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 9 Quotes

Her father looked down at her. He said her name again, very softly. His eyes were still wet, his eyelashes spiked with tears. He put his hand on the back of her neck.
“Be brave, my sweet love. Be brave, as brave as you can.”
She could not cry. Her fear was so great it seemed to engulf everything else, it seemed to suck up every single emotion within her, like a monstrous, powerful vacuum.

Related Characters: Wladyslaw Starzynski (speaker), Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
Related Symbols: The Key
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Through the bus’s dusty pane, she recognized one of them, the young red-haired one who had often helped her cross the street on her way home from school. She tapped on the glass to attract his attention. When his eyes locked onto hers, he quickly looked away. He seemed embarrassed, almost annoyed. She wondered why.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), The Policeman
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 11 Quotes

But she had seen. She knew what it was. A young woman, her mother’s age, and a small child. The woman had jumped, her child held close, from the highest railing.
From where the girl sat, she could see the dislocated body of the woman, the bloody skull of the child, sliced open like a ripe tomato.
The girl bent her head and cried.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Wladyslaw Starzynski
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 15 Quotes

She couldn’t bear the idea of him waiting in the dark. He must be hungry, thirsty. His water had probably run out. And the battery on the flashlight. But anything was better than here, she thought. Anything was better than this hell, the stink, the heat, the dust, the people screaming, the people dying.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Michel Starzynski
Related Symbols: Dust
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 23 Quotes

She held his gaze, not glancing down once. His eyes were a strange, yellowish color, like gold. His face was red with embarrassment, and she thought she felt him tremble. She said nothing, staring at him with all the contempt she could muster.
He could only look back at her, motionless. The girl smiled, a bitter smile for a child of ten, and brushed off his heavy hands.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), The Policeman
Related Symbols: Hands
Page Number: 81-82
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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
Chapter 31 Quotes

All of a sudden, every ounce of hope she still harbored within her ran out. In the old lady’s eyes she read what she most dreaded. Michel was dead. Dead in the cupboard. She knew. It was too late. She had waited too long. He had not survived. He had not made it. He had died there, all alone, in the dark, with no food and no water, just the bear and the storybook, and he had trusted her, he had waited, he had probably called out to her, screamed her name again an again, “Sirka, Sirka, where are you! Where are you?” He was dead, Michel was dead. He was four years old, and he was dead, because of her.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Michel Starzynski
Page Number: 118-119
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 34 Quotes

As I stood there, oblivious to the traffic, I felt I could almost see Sarah coming down the rue de Saintonge on that hot July morning, with her mother, and her father, and the policemen. Yes, I could see it all, I could see them being pushed into the garage, right here, where I now stood. I could see the sweet heart-shaped face, the incomprehension, the fear. The straight hair caught back in a bow, the slanted turquoise eyes. Sarah Starzynski. Was she still alive? She would be seventy today, I thought. No, she couldn’t be alive. She had disappeared off the face of the earth, with the rest of the Vel’ d’Hiv’ children. She had never come back from Auschwitz. She was a handful of dust.

Related Characters: Julia Jarmond (speaker), Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
Related Symbols: Dust
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 36 Quotes

There were several names and dates on the side of the tombstone. I leaned forward for a closer look. Children. Barely two or three years old. Children who had died at the camp, in July and August 1942. Vel’ d’Hiv’ children.
I had always been acutely aware that everything I had read about the roundup was true. And yet, on that hot spring day, as I stood looking at the grave, it hit me. The whole reality of it hit me.
And I knew that I would no longer rest, no longer be at peace, until I found out precisely what had become of Sarah Starzynski.

Related Characters: Julia Jarmond (speaker), Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski , Bamber
Page Number: 143-144
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 39 Quotes

Number 26 appeared in front of them. Nothing had changed in the street, she noticed. It was still the same calm, narrow road she had always known. How was it possible that entire lives could change, could be destroyed, and that streets and buildings remained the same, she wondered.

Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 42 Quotes

I thought of Sarah Starzynski, who had been Zoë’s age when horror came into her life.
I closed my eyes. But I could still see the moment when the policemen tore the children from the mothers at Beaune-la-Rolande. I could not get the image out of my mind.
I held Zoë close, so close she gasped.

Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 44 Quotes

I sat on the narrow bed and took the Sarah file out of my bag. Sarah was the only person I could bear thinking about right now. Finding her felt like a sacred mission, felt like the only possible way to keep my head up, to dispel the sadness in which my life had become immersed.

Related Characters: Julia Jarmond (speaker), Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 46 Quotes

As the prime minister went on, my eyes moved over the crowd. Was there anyone here who knew and remembered Sarah Starzynski? Was she here herself? Right now, at this very moment? Was she here with a husband, a child, a grandchild? Behind me, in front of me? I carefully picked out women in their seventies, scanning wrinkled, solemn faces for the slanted green eyes. But I did not feel comfortable ogling these grieving strangers. I lowered my gaze.

Related Characters: Julia Jarmond (speaker), Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 47 Quotes

After my conversation with my sister, I lay on the sofa for a long time, my hand folded over my stomach like a protective shield. Little by little, I felt vitality pumping back into me.
As ever, I thought of Sarah Starzynski, and of what I now knew. I had not needed to tape Gaspard Dufaure. Nor jot anything down. It was all written inside me.

Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 62 Quotes

Was it to do with Sarah, with the rue de Saintonge? Or was it just a belated coming-of-age? I could not tell. I only knew that I felt as if I had emerged from a long-lasting, mellow, protective fog. Now my senses were sharpened, keen. There was no fog. There was nothing mellow. There were only facts. Finding this man. Telling him his mother had never been forgotten by the Tézacs, by the Dufaures.

Page Number: 228
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 71 Quotes

I cannot bear the weight of my past.
Yet I cannot throw away the key to your cupboard.
It is the only concrete thing that links me to you, apart from your grave.

Related Characters: Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski (speaker), Michel Starzynski
Related Symbols: The Key
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 72 Quotes

Somehow he was no stranger to me, and more bizarre still, I felt even less a stranger to him. What had brought us together? My quest, my thirst for truth, my compassion for his mother? He knew nothing of me, knew nothing of my failing marriage, my near miscarriage in Lucca, my job, my life. What did I know of him, of his wife, his children, his career? His present was a mystery. But his past, his mother’s past, had been etched out to me like fiery torches along a dark path. And I longed to show this man that I cared, that what happened to his mother had altered my life.

Page Number: 262
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire Sarah’s Key LitChart as a printable PDF.
Sarah s key.pdf.medium

Sarah “Sirka” Starzynski Character Timeline in Sarah’s Key

The timeline below shows where the character Sarah “Sirka” 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
In July 1942, Sarah Starzynski awakens to the sound of knocking on her apartment door. Sarah worries that the... (full context)
Chapter 3
Guilt Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
Back in 1942, Sarah’s mother orders her to fetch her younger brother, Michel. She does, but her brother insists... (full context)
Chapter 5
Identity Theme Icon
...her and search the apartment anyway. Unable to find Michel or Wladyslaw, the police lead Sarah and Rywka away. As she exists the building, Sarah notices the gloating expression on the... (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. One neighbor,... (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... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
...police order the families onto the green-and-white city buses. Through the window of the bus, Sarah recognizes her neighborhood policeman, but when she waves to him he refuses to meet her... (full context)
Chapter 11
Bravery Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
In the heat of the Vélodrome, Sarah waits with her parents. There is no food, no water, and no working sanitary facility.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
To distract herself from the noises of sobbing and defecation that surround her, Sarah tries to think of happy memories. Several of these memories involve her best friend, Armelle.... (full context)
Chapter 15
Identity Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
Sarah has survived a horrible night in the Vélodrome, during which a woman gave birth to... (full context)
Chapter 17
Identity Theme Icon
After several days that have all blurred together in her mind, Sarah is ordered, along with everyone else in the Vélodrome to collect her belongings and gather... (full context)
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
The prisoners are transported via city bus to a railway station. Sarah begins to panic, thinking again of her brother. She starts to sob, screaming at her... (full context)
Chapter 19
Identity Theme Icon
Sarah and the other prisoners arrive at an internment camp somewhere in the French countryside. The... (full context)
Chapter 21
Guilt Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
Sarah has been in the camp for about a week, and she is haunted by thoughts... (full context)
Chapter 23
Guilt Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Sarah and the other children in the camp pass a miserable night together. Sarah wonders if... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
An older girl named Rachel, who is Sarah’s age, begins listening to Sarah’s nighttime stories. One evening Rachel approaches Sarah and proposes they... (full context)
Guilt Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
The next day, the camp policemen shave the children’s heads. Sarah forces herself not to cry as she has her head shaved. When she looks up... (full context)
Chapter 25
Identity Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
Sarah has decided to attempt escape along with Rachel. She feels “as if all the evil,... (full context)
Bravery Theme Icon
Rachel and Sarah don extra, protective layers of clothing and make their way toward the barbed-wire fence, which... (full context)
Chapter 27
Guilt Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
When they finally stop to rest, Rachel and Sarah remember the policeman’s parting words: “Take off your stars.” They both do so and Rachel... (full context)
Chapter 29
Bravery Theme Icon
By the time Sarah and Rachel awaken, night has fallen. They continue to make their way through the forest,... (full context)
Chapter 31
Identity Theme Icon
Jules and Geneviève feed Rachel and Sarah, and Geneviève helps the girls to bathe. Geneviève sees blisters on Rachel’s body and realizes... (full context)
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Sarah awakens the following morning in a pleasant bedroom. As she makes her way downstairs to... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
...in Orléans who has agreed to visit the house. When this doctor arrives, Geneviève orders Sarah to hide. From the cellar, Sarah can hear the doctor asking badgering questions about Rachel’s... (full context)
Chapter 32
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...from the Beaune-la-Rolande internment camp on convoy 15, which Julia knows traveled directly to Auschwitz. Sarah, however, is not listed as having left Beaune-la-Rolande. (Most of the children at the camp,... (full context)
Chapter 33
Identity Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
...ultimately leave her in her bed because she is too weak. They refuse to answer Sarah’s questions, and both of them seem to have calmed down by the evening. Jules tells... (full context)
Chapter 34
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
Julia stops by the rue de Bretagne, the location of the garage in which Sarah and her family were held before being moved to the Vélodrome. Looking at the place... (full context)
Chapter 35
Guilt Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
The evening after Rachel’s capture, Sarah sleeps poorly, unable to take her mind off Michel. The next morning Sarah announces to... (full context)
Chapter 36
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
...visit the cemetery at Beaune-la-Rolande. Seeing the graves of children makes Julia determined to uncover Sarah’s fate. On their walk back to town, Julia and Bamber meet an old man who... (full context)
Chapter 37
Identity Theme Icon
Jules, Geneviève, and Sarah are at the Orléans train station. Sarah is dressed in Nicolas Dufaure’s clothes and posing... (full context)
Chapter 38
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
...knows.” Finally, he reveals that he was home in the rue de Saintonge apartment when Sarah returned. (full context)
Chapter 39
Guilt Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
Sarah, Jules, and Geneviève arrive at Sarah’s old apartment. Madame Royer assumes the Dufaures must be... (full context)
Chapter 40
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
Through tears, Edouard describes the day of Sarah’s return to Julia. He can’t remember what was done with Michel’s body but he recalls... (full context)
Chapter 42
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
...file, Julia finds twelve letters to André Tézac from Jules Dufaure, each containing updates on Sarah’s wellbeing. The file also contains monthly bank statements which show that André sent money to... (full context)
Chapter 44
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
...has told no one about the abortion, except for Bertrand. While she waits, she reads Sarah’s file. Earlier in the morning, Julia had contacted a Nathalie Dufaure, great-granddaughter of Jules and... (full context)
Chapter 46
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
...has to resist the urge to scan the faces in the crowd in search of Sarah. As she leaves the commemoration, on her way to meet Nathalie Dufaure, Julia wonders if... (full context)
Chapter 48
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...in chronological order, to describe Julia’s conversation with Gaspard. Gaspard and Nicolas grew up as Sarah’s brothers, having been told that Sarah’s parents died during the war and she had been... (full context)
Chapter 49
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
...phone call from Zoë, who is eager to know what progress Julia has made on Sarah’s case. Julia says that Sarah left France for the States in 1952. She then privately... (full context)
Chapter 50
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
...to Julia’s meeting with Gaspard. Gaspard says that the last time his grandparents heard from Sarah was in 1955, when she sent a letter from the States to say she was... (full context)
Chapter 53
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...final phone call Julia receives that evening is from Nathalie, who says she has found Sarah’s final letter, in which she writes that she will be married to a man named... (full context)
Chapter 55
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Later that night, having found the file containing Sarah’s papers, Bertrand confronts Julia. “You just can’t help it, can you?” he says. “You just... (full context)
Chapter 56
Identity Theme Icon
...a powerful magnet.” She is determined to track down Richard Rainsferd and, in doing so, Sarah. Before leaving, Julia calls Edouard and promises him she is going to do her best... (full context)
Chapter 57
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
...thrilled to be reunited with Charla. In her sister’s New York City apartment, Julia explains Sarah’s story in full. As soon as the story is finished, Charla bolts to the phone... (full context)
Chapter 59
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
...saying she has “the wrong Mrs. Rainsferd,” since she is looking for a woman called Sarah. The Italian woman tells Julia that Sarah was her husband’s first wife, and that she... (full context)
Chapter 62
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...life has “shifted subtly” in the past months and wonders if this is because of Sarah. Though she is eager to meet William, she is too nervous to phone him. Zoë... (full context)
Chapter 65
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
As William stares at the photograph of Sarah, Julia realizes that Sarah “had never told her son about who she really was” because... (full context)
Chapter 67
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...present, thinking that only he has the answers she craves to her lingering questions about Sarah. (full context)
Chapter 70
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...Julia senses that Bertrand understands what is happening. Edouard assures William that Julia will share Sarah’s story. As Edouard and the Tézacs leave, Julia imagines the shock that Colette, Laure, and... (full context)
Chapter 71
Guilt Theme Icon
The Limits of Love Theme Icon
...story. The two go to a café, where Julia tells the story and then translates Sarah’s diary, which is written in French. In it, Sarah writes that she has kept the... (full context)
Chapter 72
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Guilt Theme Icon
William reveals that Sarah killed herself by driving her car into a tree. Julia is at a loss for... (full context)
Chapter 73
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
...room. The family is split: Edouard, Zoë, and Cécile agree with Julia’s decision to research Sarah’s fate, but Colette and Laure disagree, and Bertrand remains silent. The family argues vehemently over... (full context)
Chapter 74
Identity Theme Icon
The narrative jumps to the year 2005. Julia, Zoë, and Julia’s two-year-old daughter (young Sarah) now live in New York City. Julia has a bland but kind boyfriend with whom... (full context)
Chapter 81
The Power of Silence Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...to meet for coffee in a half hour. Hardly able to breathe, Julia puts young Sarah in her stroller and heads out. (full context)
Chapter 82
Remembrance and History Theme Icon
...impression that the baby’s name is Lucy (when Julia entered the café, William asked young Sarah her name and she responded with the name of her toy giraffe, Lucy). When Julia... (full context)