Lois Lowry’s young adult novel Number the Stars tells the story of the Johansen family and their neighbors, the Rosens. Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen are best friends. The story is set in 1943 German-occupied Denmark, and because the Rosens are Jewish, it becomes clear that Ellen and her parents must leave Denmark or go into hiding.
The Johansens help. Initially, they hide Ellen, and then they help the Rosens escape from Copenhagen. Through her experience during this time, Annemarie learns what it means to be brave and to stand up for what you believe and fight, in small ways and big ways, against tyranny. This lesson is made clear when the newspapers report that
The Danes had destroyed their own naval fleet, blowing up the vessels one by one, as the Germans approached to take over the ships for their own use.
"How sad the king must be," Annemarie had heard Mama say to Papa when they read the news.
"How proud," Papa had replied.
It had made Annemarie feel sad and proud, too…
On the night that Mr. Johansen tells Annemarie and Ellen that Ellen will stay with them, he says, "If anyone should come, even soldiers, you two will be sisters. You are together so much, it will be easy for you to pretend that you are sisters." He understands that the girls, as well as the parents, will all be frightened if the Nazi soldiers come in search of the Rosens. However, they will be brave.
In fact, at the end of the novel, Uncle Henrik tells Annemarie how brave she has been.
"Brave?" Annemarie asked, surprised. "No, I wasn't. I was very frightened."
"You risked your life."
"But I didn't even think about that! I was only thinking of—"
He interrupted her, smiling. "That's all that brave means—not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do. Of course you were frightened. I was too, today. But you kept your mind on what you had to do. So did I.”
In an earlier scene, Annemarie watches during what seems to be a funeral, but the casket contains only blankets and old clothing. There are a number of people in attendance. Annemarie soon realizes that her family is helping Jewish people flee to safety:
"Annemarie realized, though she had not really been told, that Uncle Henrik was going to take them, in his boat, across the sea to Sweden."
Annemarie once had an older sister, Lise, who is dead now. She was in the Resistance, as was Lise’s fiancé, Peter. Annemarie recognizes that helping get their friends and others to safety is important, despite the difficulty and danger. The dangers are made clear, as both Lise and Peter die.
Nevertheless, it is important to stand up for what you believe and fight for freedom against tyranny. For instance, once the war ends, people in Copenhagen place symbols of freedom in their windows and those of the Jewish neighbors whom they hope will soon return:
For nearly two years, now, neighbors had tended the plants and dusted the furniture and polished the candlesticks for the Jews who had fled. Her mother had done so for the Rosens. "It is what friends do," Mama had said. Now neighbors had entered each unoccupied, waiting apartment, opened a window, and hung a symbol of freedom there.