What happens in Number the Stars?
In 1943, best friends Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen turn ten. The girls live in Copenhagen, Denmark, which has been occupied by the Nazis for the past three years. It has been two years since Annemarie's sister, Lise, was run down in the street by two Nazi soldiers after being outed as a member of the Danish resistance.
- Unlike Annemarie, Ellen is Jewish. Her family is forced to flee when the Germans begin rounding up Jews for "relocation." Ellen stays behind in Copenhagen and lives with the Johansens while waiting for her parents to return.
- Annemarie and her family go to great lengths to hide Ellen. When German soldiers search their apartment, Annemarie steals Ellen's Star of David, and Mr. Johnansen shows the soldiers a picture of young Lise, pretending she's Ellen.
- The Johansens visit Uncle Henrik in the coastal city of Gillileje. The Rosens reunite with their daughter. It's soon revealed that Uncle Henrik and his fishermen friends are members of the resistance. They smuggle the Rosens into Sweden, where they'll be safe until the war ends two years later.
Blonde-haired Annemarie is racing her dark-haired friend Ellen down a street in Copenhagen to practice for the running races that will be held at school on Friday. Kirsti, Annemarie’s little sister, is struggling to keep up; Ellen is shorter than her friend and is clearly not going to win this race. Suddenly two German soldiers yell at Annemarie to stop and point rifles at her. She stops immediately, and one of the men questions her. He asks why she is running and what she has in her backpack. She tells him the truth as first Ellen and then Kirsti appear behind her. The men continue to ask questions, and Ellen is frightened. Kirsti does not recognize the potential danger and is bold and a bit sassy when one of the soldiers pats her head. When the girls have been warned not to run and are free to go home, the two older girls admit they had been afraid and decide not to tell their mothers of the incident, for fear it would worry them. They pass several other soldiers on the walk home but do not make eye contact.
When they arrive at their apartment building, Ellen goes to her second-floor home and the Johansen sisters go on to their third-floor home. Before Annemarie even walks through the door, Kirsti is already recounting the incident to both mothers, who are drinking tea. (There has been no coffee in Copenhagen since the Nazis came to occupy the city almost a year before, and even the tea is little more than water with a few herbs. Butter and sugar are also not available.) Although Annemarie tries to downplay the incident, both women are visibly worried. They quietly discuss the unrest among the soldiers since the Danish Resistance movement, which they have read about in the underground newspaper (that they promptly burn after reading). As Mrs. Rosen leaves, she asks the girls to promise to travel a different route to school from now on and tells them to always be part of a crowd. Never give them a reason to remember your faces, she says. She exacts the same promise from Ellen.
That night Annemarie tells her sister a bedtime story about a beautiful princess in a wonderful kingdom; once Kirsti is asleep, Annemarie thinks about the real-life king of Denmark who used to ride through the streets, greeting people as he passed them. She remembers her older sister, Lise, taking her outside more than once to see King Christian pass by them, but remembering makes her sad. Lise is now dead and the king is now joined by German soldiers on street corners. Three years ago, Lise died in an accident two weeks before her wedding. Three years ago, King Christian had to surrender his country to Germany because they were too small to fight, just as all the countries surrounding them had already done—all but Sweden. As Kirsti sleeps, Annemarie thinks that fairy tales are the only unchanging things in her world, the only place where happy endings are still...
(The entire section is 5,607 words.)