Study Guide

Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars Summary

Extended Summary

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 soldiers on street corners. Three years ago, Lise died in an accident two weeks before her wedding. Three years ago, King Christian had to surrender his country to Germany because they were too small to fight, just as all the countries surrounding them had already done—all but Sweden. As Kirsti sleeps, Annemarie thinks that fairy tales are the only unchanging things in her world, the only place where happy endings are still possible.

Winter is coming soon, and it will be cold both inside and outside of houses because electricity is now rationed and other fuel is scarce. Kirsti’s coat has a broken button, and Mrs. Johansen asks the girls to stop at Mrs. Hirsch’s store on the way home for a replacement. When they arrive, the store is closed and there is a sign written in German on the door. The girls are puzzled. When they tell their mother, she is worried and goes to tell Mrs. Rosen the news. That night Peter, Lise’s intended husband, comes to visit after dark, breaking the city’s curfew law. He brings the family treats as well as the news that the Germans are closing Jewish-owned stores in the city. Annemarie is immediately concerned for the Rosens and her friend Ellen. Mr. Rosen is a schoolteacher, so he will probably be safe from the Jewish persecution. They discuss how the Danish Jews have been spared such things until now; these things have been happening in other countries for many years already. Annemarie assumes that the Danish people will take care of these families who can no longer make a living, bringing them food until the occupation is over in Copenhagen. As she crawls back into bed, she is frightened and wonders if she would be willing to die to save Ellen, her family, and the rest of the Danish Jews. She dismisses the thought as being too much like a fairy tale, something which would never happen in real life. She is thankful she will never be called upon to demonstrate such courage.

The next day, the two older girls are playing with paper dolls cut from old magazines when Kirsti barges in. She is disgruntled and complains about the new shoes her mother has gotten her. She says she refuses to wear fish shoes—shoes literally made out of fish because there is no leather to be had. While the girls silently empathize with her, they try to be encouraging. Ellen even volunteers to have her father use some black ink to dye the green shoes. All three girls play dolls. One of the places the dolls go is Tivoli, which holds both good and bad memories for Annemarie. The Tivoli Gardens, in the center of town, was a place where families could gather and have fun: there were carousels and ice cream and fireworks. The Gardens are now closed and German forces have burnt some of it. On Kirsti’s last birthday, she saw bursts of light in the night sky and was excited to see the fireworks. In fact, the explosions were the ships of Danish naval fleet being blown up by the Danes themselves, one at a time, before the Germans could confiscate and use them.

Ellen must go help her mother prepare for the Jewish New Year celebration on Thursday; she invites the sisters to come watch her mother light the Sabbath candles. They readily accept the invitation, though they have seen the ceremony before. She cannot understand the words, but Annemarie is always awed by the ritual and moved by the depth of feeling she sees in the Rosens. This Thursday is different, though. The Rosens dress up and walk together to the synagogue in the morning; in the afternoon Mrs. Rosen comes to the Johansens’ door and has a long, quiet conversation with Annemarie’s mother. After her neighbor leaves, Mrs. Johansen announces that Ellen will be spending the night with them and staying as their guest for several days. She tries to make it seem like an exciting adventure. The girls question the sudden change of plans, but their mother tells them the Rosens have been called away on a family emergency and briskly sets about preparing for Ellen’s arrival.

Although the meal is festive, the mood is somber and Ellen looks terribly sad. Once Kirsti and her mother leave the room, Mr. Johansen explains to Annemarie what Ellen already knows. Synagogues have been forced to give the Germans their lists of members, and soon—perhaps as early as tonight—they will be rounded up for something called relocation. No one knows quite what that means, but Peter has taken the Rosens to a safe place somewhere else. Ellen will stay here. If anyone asks, they will say she is the third daughter of the family, sister to Annemarie and Kirsti. After darkening the room as is now required, Mr. Rosen kisses both girls goodnight and says he is glad to have a third daughter again. The girls whisper as they get ready for bed, remembering Lise and the tragic car accident that took her life. Annemarie tells Ellen, who is a good actress, she can pretend to be Lise if she ever needs to. Both girls agree that Ellen is safe here and that it is unlikely soldiers will ever come to their door, and they finally drift off to sleep.

A few hours later, when it is still dark, they are awakened by a pounding at the door. The officers are looking for the Rosens and insist on searching the apartment to see if the family is hiding at their friends’ home. Annemarie has been watching and listening at her door. When the soldiers head toward her bedroom, she tells Ellen to hurry and take off her Star of David necklace, which she has always worn. When Ellen is fumbling and cannot undo the clasp, Annemarie warns her this may hurt and then yanks the gold necklace off her friend’s neck; she keeps it clasped tightly in her hand. The soldiers immediately notice Ellen’s dark hair is a contrast to the blond hair of the other two girls. Mr. Rosen grabs a family photo album and tears out three baby pictures, one for each of his daughters. Annemarie knows he tore them out of the book because their birthdates were written under each photo and Ellen is clearly not twenty-one years old, as the real Lise would be. The picture of Lise is a perfect answer to the soldiers’ questions, though, for as a baby Lise had brown, curly hair—just like Ellen. The soldiers turn and leave in disgust. Annemarie finally unclenches her fist and sees the Star of David imprinted into her palm.

It is starting to get light out, so they all stay up; Mr. Rosen expresses his dismay that the soldiers had been much more invasive than he thought they would be. The girls will not go to school as usual today, despite Ellen’s protestations that her parents insist that she get an education. It may be, says Mr. Rosen, that the soldiers will come to school looking for Jewish children. Their plan, suggested earlier by Peter, is for his wife to take the girls to stay with Uncle Henrik for a few days. He wants to go, but if the entire family leaves together and fails to keep some kind of routine, they are likely to arouse suspicion. Father calls Henrik, Mrs. Johansen’s fisherman brother, and tells him to expect a visit later today. Annemarie listens to him tell Uncle Henrik that his sister will be bringing the girls and just one carton of cigarettes. She is confused, for she knows there are no cigarettes to be found anymore. Then she realizes that her father is speaking in code:...

(The entire section is 3952 words.)

Number the Stars Overview

Number the Stars is a story about courage. In 1943, Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has been occupied by Hitler's Third Reich....

(The entire section is 201 words.)

Lori Steinbach, Ed. Scott Locklear