Why are the girls puzzled when they see the Hirsches’ button shop closed in Number the Stars?

The girls are puzzled to see the Hirshches’ shop closed because it is normally open during general business hours. They cannot understand why the Hirsches are not there operating their shop. Moreover, there is a sign on the door in German with a swastika. Mama understands its significance and realizes the danger the Rosens and other Jews are in. Shortly afterward, the Rosens disappear and the Johansens help smuggle them and other Jews to safety.

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The girls are puzzled when they see that the Hirsches’ button shop is closed because it is a weekday during business hours and the shop is normally open during these times. The girls do not realize that everything has changed and that many of their Jewish neighbors and friends have been rounded up by the Nazis or have fled Copenhagen already. At the same time, many shops that had been owned by Jews are now closed permanently or being transitioned to ownership by new, state-appointed non-Jewish operators. In fact, the girls see a sign on the door of the Hirsches’ button store. The author notes,

But after school, when the girls stopped at the shop, which had been there as long as Annemarie could remember, they found it closed. There was a new padlock on the door, and a sign. But the sign was in German. They couldn’t read the words.

Although the girls cannot read or understand the sign, the reader understands that it likely states that the Jews who formerly owned and ran the store have been displaced and deported (to a death camp) and will be replaced by owners who will be named by the authorities.

The girls are mystified that the store is closed and worry that perhaps one of the owners, Mrs. Hirsch, is sick. Annemarie’s young sister Kirsti says naively,

I think the Hirsches all went on a vacation to the seashore.

Although the older girls recognize how unlikely a seashore vacation is during wartime, none of the girls recognizes the importance of the shop being closed, the Hirsches’ whereabouts being unknown, and the German sign on the store. However, Mrs. Johansen understands the significance of these things. She questions them about the sign.

“Are you sure the sign was in German?” she asked. “Maybe you didn’t look carefully.”

“Mama, it had a swastika on it.”

Mama only needs to hear that the German sign had a swastika on it to realize the danger that her Jewish neighbors, the Rosens, are in. Immediately, she goes to speak to Mrs. Rosen. We learn shortly thereafter that the Rosens have disappeared from Copenhagen, that the Johansens have taken their daughter Ellen in, and that the Johansens will help smuggle them to safety.

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