A button has broken on Kirsti's jacket, and so Mama asks Annemarie to go with Kirsti to Mrs. Hirsch's shop after school to buy a replacement. But when the girls arrive there, they discover that the shop is closed; it's the first time they can remember such a thing happening.
There's a large padlock on the door and a sign. But because the sign is in German, the girls are unable to read what it says. Annemarie's not sure what it all means. She thinks perhaps that Mrs. Hirsch is sick; it's the only reasonable explanation that she can think of. In any case, it seems that Mrs. Hirsch and her family have gone somewhere; why else would they close the shop?
When Annemarie returns home and tells Mama about what's happened, Mama immediately grasps the situation. She asks Annemarie if she's certain that the sign outside the shop was in German. Annemarie confirms that it was, and that it had a swastika on it.
Mama knows, as Annemarie will soon discover, that Mrs. Hirsch's button shop has been closed by the Germans because she and her family are Jews. Even when Annemarie finds this out, however, she still doesn't quite understand why the Germans would do such a thing. What possible harm could a button shop do? And why have the Germans done such a terrible thing to Mrs. Hirsch, who's such a nice lady, and her son Samuel, who's as harmless as they come?