Like other Jewish families living during the Holocaust, Sarah Starzynski and her parents are forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing. (At four years old Michel is too young to wear a star.) Initially Sarah doesn’t like that she must wear a star but her mother, Rywka, tells her she should wear it with pride. After escaping from the internment camp at Beaune-la-Rolande, Sarah and her friend Rachel realize they must remove their stars if they do not want people to recognize them as escapees. Sarah has trouble ripping her star off her clothes because her mother has sewed it on so tightly, but she is finally able to remove it and comments on how “small” it looks. Rachel then deems the stars “dead” and buries them, which makes Sarah laugh. Immediately, Sarah feels guilty for laughing, remembering her mother’s injunction to wear the star with pride, but she puts the thought out of her mind. However, the star eventually plays a role in Julia’s plot, when seeing a photo of his mother wearing the yellow star is the only thing that convinces William Rainsferd that Julia is telling the truth. Discovering the star and the key among his mother’s things then prompts William to seek Julia out again so he can learn the full story about his mother. The yellow star is thus a multilayered symbol. On a large scale, it represents the evil of the Nazi regime, which ordered and carried out the murder of millions of people based solely on one aspect of their identity. Sarah’s dislike for the star shows how she resists the narrowing of her identity. However, the star simultaneously represents the Starzynskis’ pride in their Jewish heritage and their love for one another. Michel cries when his mother tells him he does not have to wear a star, and Sarah feels a sense of shame in shedding her star. In some ways the star is able to transcend its origins as a symbol of discrimination and evil. Because of Rywka’s treatment of the star—and its history as a symbol of the Jewish faith—it becomes a symbol that is also imbued with love. However, the fact that Sarah and Rachel bury the star underscores the fact that the star is not a symbol that can be fully reclaimed and redefined—at least not in their brief lifetimes.
The Yellow Star Quotes in Sarah’s Key
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.
We wandered around the small, plain room, gazing at photographs, articles, maps. There were some yellow stars, placed behind a glass panel. It was the first time I saw a real one. I felt impressed and sickened.