This historical novel, set in German-occupied Denmark in 1943, includes in its account of two fictional Danish families—one Christian and one Jewish—many factual incidents that occurred as the Danish people successfully helped many of their Jewish fellow citizens escape to Sweden and thus avoid death and deprivation at the hands of their Nazi captors. In seventeen brief chapters, author Lois Lowry recounts the fear, secrecy, uncertainty, and subterfuge experienced by the Johansens as, in the spirit of all Danes during World War II, they protected and assisted the Rosens and other Jewish friends, demonstrating their individual courage, their innate humaneness, and their unrelenting empathy for a persecuted people. Annemarie Johansen learns from her father the various stories about the bravery of their good King Christian X and the Danish Resistance, and she wonders whether she could be as courageous. The events over the next few days will tell.
For three years, German troops have occupied Denmark, but everyone becomes worried when two soldiers question Annemarie and her friend Ellen Rosen on the way home from school and when on the following day the Hirsches’ shop is found locked by the Germans and the Hirsches are mysteriously gone. The Jewish community knows that it must act when the rabbi tells them he has word the Nazis plan to “relocate” the Jews. The Rosens make hasty arrangements for Ellen to stay with the Johansens under the guise of being Annemarie’s sister Lise, who had been killed, according to her parents, in an automobile accident. Annemarie understands the wisdom of such a ploy when German soldiers break into their house that night.
Annemarie has already learned firsthand to fear the abuse of the rude Germans, and she understands somewhat the dangers facing the Jews in Denmark. What is she to make, however, of the cryptic telephone call by her father and the sudden trip by Mrs. Johansen and the children, including Ellen, to the seaport village of Gilleleje to visit Uncle Henrik? She perceives that her parents and Uncle Henrik are lying to her. Piece by piece, the puzzle comes together. First, the wake for Great-Aunt Birte—who, Annemarie knows, never existed—is actually a gathering of Jews, the Rosens included, whom Uncle Henrik will take in his boat across the short distance to freedom in Sweden. Annemarie unwittingly plays a crucial role in the success of the escape when she delivers to Uncle Henrik an important packet containing a handkerchief. She experiences a fearsome night and rough treatment by German soldiers who roughly search the contents of her decoy lunch basket.
Only after the success of the rescue of Jews that night does Annemarie discover fully the truth about coded messages, secret compartments on boats to hide escaping Jews, a special drug to block temporarily the sense of smell by German police dogs, and the valiant efforts of the Danish Resistance, which cost the lives of her sister Lise and her fiancé, Peter Neilsen. To her surprise, she learns that she, too, is courageous, for as Uncle Henrik explains, bravery is “not thinking about the dangers.” Perhaps more important, she learns about the terrible injustice of racial prejudice.
Through one family’s efforts to aid Jewish friends in their escape...
(The entire section is 1348 words.)