Number the Stars begins in September 1943 in Copenhagen Denmark. The Nazis have been occupying the country for three years, but having armed soldiers on every corner is still disconcerting for the peace-loving Danes. Yet, up until now, the soldiers have left the Danish people basically alone, including the Danish Jews. But when two German soldiers stop ten year old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend and neighbor Ellen Rosen on the was home from school one day, it is clear that things are about to change.
The first real indication of change comes when the girls are sent to a neighborhood shop owned by Jews to buy a replacement coat button and discover the school is closed. Later, they learn that the Nazis are forcibly closing down all the Jewish owned businesses.
The next day, Ellen's mother, looking very concerned and worried comes over to speak to Mrs. Johansen; it seems the Nazis are starting to search for Jews and it is decided to leave Ellen with the Johansen's, to try to pass her off as Annemarie's sister while the Rosens go into hiding. And, indeed, the Nazis do come and search and question why Ellen has dark hair and Annemarie and her little sister Kristi are so blond. Luckily, Mr. Johansen has an answer for them and they finally leave.
The next day, Annemarie, Ellen and Kristi travel with Mrs. Johansen to her brother Henrik's house in Gillelje, a small fishing village. He and Mrs. Johansen grew up there and know the area very well. That night, a hearse arrives with a casket which is set up in the living room for mourners to pay their respects, according to custom. The children are told that their Great Aunt Birte has passed away, but Annemarie figures out that the casket is empty, there has never even been a Great Aunt Birte in her family.
What's really going on, then? Annemarie finds out when she is asked to undertake a dangerous job for her mother.
Without giving particulars away and spoiling this novel for anyone who may not have already read it, this is a story about the Danish Resistance. Resistance and Partisan stories are some of my favorites, because I like to think there will always be people who refuse to accept tyranny (and I like to think I would be one of them.) And of course, we have all heard of how the Danes saved so many Jewish lives by hiding and sailing them to Sweden in their fishing boats. But, even knowing that, it is the details of how things were done that makes Number the Stars such a good book.
Almost 8,000 Jewish people were saved by the Danish Resistance, undertaken at risk. It was a nationwide effort and the Danes were the only occupied country to actively resist the Nazi deportation of their Jewish friends, neighbors and even strangers.
Lois Lowry has captured the secrecy, the tension, the fear and the courage that surrounded the whole rescue operation in Number the Stars, as well as the level of cruel disregard Nazis held for the people in the countries they occupied. And, as always, Lowry has managed to tell this relatively short story in the same straightforward, well-done style that she is known for. And, not surprisingly, Lowry won the Newbery Medal in 1990 for Number the Stars.
If you haven't already read this award winning novel of hope and courage, now might be a good time. After all, Number the Stars is a favorite on summer reading lists.
This book is recommended for readers age 10-14
This book was purchased for my personal library
|Source: The Jewish Virtual Library|
This is the kind of fishing boat used to smuggle out 10-12 Jews per trip
|Source: A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust|
This map shows the the places where escape began in Denmark
Gillelje is located in northern Denmark
This is book 5 of my European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader
This is book 4 of my Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry