They were ripping off the stars. Filthy fingers with broken dirt-encrusted nails were yanking and peeling and prying. Who would have thought they still had the strength? One woman was biting the threads that held hers tight to her torn jacket. She must have been a good seamstress in her day. Those who had managed to tear off their stars were throwing them to the ground. A man was spitting on his. Who would have thought he had the saliva as well as the strength? Charlotte’s mouth felt dry and foul from dehydration. Men and women and children were stomping the worn scraps of fabric into the mud, spreading a carpet of tarnished yellow misery over the fenced-in plot of French soil.
Charlotte crouched beside Vivi and began pulling out the stitches that held her daughter’s star to her soiled pink blouse. The law had stipulated that only children six or older had to wear the star, and Vivi was four, but the blouse had been left behind when another child had been abruptly added, in a moment of bureaucratic desperation, to a transport that had come up one short of the required one thousand bodies. Charlotte had taken the blouse before anyone else could – they were permitted possessions in the camp, if they still had any – but she hadn’t removed the star. Wearing a blouse with a dark six-pointed shadow where a star used to be, denying, even if you were only four, was asking for trouble. Now Charlotte could remove it. Only when she had, did she straighten and start pulling off her own.