Blonde-haired Annemarie is racing her dark-haired friend Ellen down a street in Copenhagen to practice for the running races that will be held at school on Friday. Kirsti, Annemarie’s little sister, is struggling to keep up; Ellen is shorter than her friend and is clearly not going to win this race. Suddenly two German soldiers yell at Annemarie to stop and point rifles at her. She stops immediately, and one of the men questions her. He asks why she is running and what she has in her backpack. She tells him the truth as first Ellen and then Kirsti appear behind her. The men continue to ask questions, and Ellen is frightened. Kirsti does not recognize the potential danger and is bold and a bit sassy when one of the soldiers pats her head. When the girls have been warned not to run and are free to go home, the two older girls admit they had been afraid and decide not to tell their mothers of the incident, for fear it would worry them. They pass several other soldiers on the walk home but do not make eye contact.
When they arrive at their apartment building, Ellen goes to her second-floor home and the Johansen sisters go on to their third-floor home. Before Annemarie even walks through the door, Kirsti is already recounting the incident to both mothers, who are drinking tea. (There has been no coffee in Copenhagen since the Nazis came to occupy the city almost a year before, and even the tea is little more than water with a few herbs. Butter and sugar are also not available.) Although Annemarie tries to downplay the incident, both women are visibly worried. They quietly discuss the unrest among the soldiers since the Danish Resistance movement, which they have read about in the underground newspaper (that they promptly burn after reading). As Mrs. Rosen leaves, she asks the girls to promise to travel a different route to school from now on and tells them to always be part of a crowd. Never give them a reason to remember your faces, she says. She exacts the same promise from Ellen.
That night Annemarie tells her sister a bedtime story about a beautiful princess in a wonderful kingdom; once Kirsti is asleep, Annemarie thinks about the real-life king of Denmark who used to ride through the streets, greeting people as he passed them. She remembers her older sister, Lise, taking her outside more than once to see King Christian pass by them, but remembering makes her sad. Lise is now dead and the king is now joined by German...
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Number the Stars is a story about courage. In 1943, Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has been occupied by Hitler's Third Reich. Soldiers stand on every street corner, and life is changed irrevocably for ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen. Wartime food shortages and the psychological terror of the Nazi takeover have made life difficult for Danish citizens; now the Nazis have decided to relocate all of Copenhagen's Jewish families, and Ellen is Jewish.
Lowry shows that Jews and non-Jews alike among Denmark's population suffer terribly at the hands of the Nazis. The Johansen family lost its eldest daughter, Lise, just two weeks before her wedding day. When Nazis raided a Resistance meeting attended by Lise, she was intentionally run down and killed by a military car. Later in the novel, Annemarie follows her sister's example, risks her own life for the cause of the Resistance, and saves Ellen's family. Annemarie's quick thinking and selflessness make her a heroine, but she is but one among many ordinary Danish citizens who stand against the Nazis. Number the Stars depicts the courage and the integrity of the Danish people, who proved that even during times of terror, human decency can prevail.
(The entire section is 201 words.)