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Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry

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How do Bruno and Shmuel from The Boy in The Striped Pajamas compare to Annemarie and Ellen from Number the Stars?

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At first glance, the two friendships seem to be an almost exact comparison. Annmarie and Ellen's friendship share many of the similarities to Shmuel and and Bruno's. Both Annmarie and Bruno are non-Jewish people whose lives are greatly affected by the Nazis. Both characters develop a strong bond with their best friends, who are Jewish, and give their everything in an attempt to improve that friend's circumstances. In this regard, Annmarie is glaringly more successful than Bruno, whose endeavors end tragically. The reason for these different outcomes is rooted in the many differences that the two characters have from one another.

Unlike Bruno, Annmarie can rely on her family. Part of a group of budding Danish freedom-fighters, Annmarie's family works tirelessly to keep Danish Jews safe from harm and, when they have the opportunity, to smuggle them out of the country. Bruno's family could not be more opposite, as his father is a high-ranking SS official. What Bruno is able to accomplish for the sake of Shmuel is equivalent to the efforts of a single child, which is practically nothing. Annmarie, with the support of family and a resistant community, is actually able to help Ellen survive the war and find better circumstances.

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Perhaps the most obvious connection between Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Annemarie and Ellen in Number the Stars is their devoted friendships. Bruno and Annemarie are willing to do almost anything to protect Shmuel and Ellen. Bruno promises to help Shmuel find his father in the concentration camp, an undertaking that ends in tragedy. Annemarie stands up to the German soldiers and protects Ellen by pulling her Star of David necklace off her neck when they're near. Though Annemarie and Bruno are both children, they are incredibly courageous and willing to fight for their friends.

Another thing the children have in common is the tumultuous world they're grappling with. Their friendships transcend the social and political barriers so harshly put in place by the Nazis, and they are all navigating the WWII era in different ways. In each of their worlds, war is raging in the background and the kids are faced with trying to understand its implications. This is particularly tragic for Bruno and Shmuel, who know they are best friends but don't really understand why a barbed wire fence separates them. Annemarie is a bit more savvy; she has at least some understanding of what was happening. She knows the Nazis are a threat, and she knows Ellen must be protected, whereas Bruno doesn't understand the horrors outside his window.

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One important similarity between Bruno and Shmuel in John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Annemarie and Ellen in Lois Lowry's Number the Stars concerns the depth of their friendships. Annemarie cares so much for her Jewish friend Ellen and the Rosen family that she even considers if she would sacrifice her own life for Ellen. While she dismisses the thought as a fairy tale, she later learns that her own sister Lise and her fiance Peter did indeed sacrifice their lives for the sake of the Jews. Both Lise and Peter were involved in the resistance movement, and Peter was executed, whereas Lisa was run over by German soldiers. Similarly, though Bruno does not die for Shmuel's sake, Bruno becomes so devoted to his friendship with Shmuel that he promises Shmuel to help him find his father within the concentration camp if Shmuel can bring Bruno a pair of striped pajamas. Ironically, the day that Bruno crosses into the concentration camp on the other side of the fence is also the day Bruno's father has engineered the first mass murder of the Jews within, leading to Bruno's untimely death, hand in hand with his friend Shmuel.

A great contrast between Annemarie and Bruno is their level of naivete. Both characters realize their lives are different and miss their lives before the start of the war. For example, Bruno misses his old, luxurious home, whereas Annemarie misses Tivoli Gardens, the town center where families could socialize, ride the carousel, and watch fireworks. However, Bruno is completely oblivious that there is death and destruction going on in his world that his father has an operating hand in, whereas Annemarie is very well aware of the threat the German soldiers pose to the Jews in Copenhagen. Since Annemarie is wiser about what's going on the world, she is able to act bravely for the sake of Ellen, even ripping the Star of David necklace from her neck to hide her from the soldiers and helping her and her family escape to Sweden. In contrast, Bruno remains completely oblivious about why Bruno and his people have been rounded up into the concentration camp and blindly becomes his father's own sacrificial lamb.

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