Number the Stars
is a work of historical
fiction about the Holocaust
Second World War
author Lois Lowry
. Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen is the
central character, who lived in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1943 and
was caught up in the events surrounding the rescue of the Danish Jews.
She and her family risked their lives to help Annemarie's best
friend, Ellen Rosen, by pretending that Ellen is Annemarie's older
sister; the sister had died earlier in the war during her work for
The title is taken from Psalm
147:4, in which
the writer of the psalm relates that God
numbered all the stars in the universe. It is meant to tie into the
Star of David
, specifically to Ellen's
necklace (Ellen is Jewish), which is symbolic to the story.
The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990 as the "most
distinguished contribution to American literature for
Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen, who is Jewish
, are 10 year olds growing up in Copenhagen,
Denmark in the year 1943. Nazi
occupied the country for over three years. Both girls try to live
normal lives under this oppression, however,they notice the
occupation more each day. One day, as Annemarie goes to Mrs.
Hirsch's corner shop to buy a button for her sister Kirsti, she
finds that it has been closed by the Nazi authorities. Mrs. Hirsch
and her son have been "relocated."
Soon after, Peter Nielsen, a young red-headed man working in the
was engaged to Annemarie's deceased older sister Lise, visits
Annemarie and her family and tells them that the Germans have
started closing Jewish stores, such as Mrs. Hirsch's, as well as
"relocating" Jews. The Nazis have been questioning rabbis
in the local synagogue
for the names of Jewish families. They
find the Rosens listed and have begun to hunt them. The next day,
Peter takes Mr. and Mrs. Rosen with him into hiding and Ellen Rosen
comes to live with the Johansens, disguised as Annemarie's deceased
older sister, Lise.
In the middle of the night, Nazi soldiers arrive at the Johansens'
apartment and demand that the Johansens reveal the whereabouts of
the Rosen family. Ellen Rosen is almost betrayed when one of the
Nazi soldiers recognizes that two of Mr. Johansen's daughters are
blond and have straight hair, while Ellen is dark-haired. Mr.
Johansen retrieves baby photos of his three daughters, with their
names listed, which clearly show that Lise had hair similar to
Ellen's when she was a baby, so the soldier tears the photo and
The next day, Mr. Johansen calls his brother-in-law, Henrik, and
asks "Is the weather good for fishing?" This was a code
for "is it okay to bring Ellen over?".
Ellen, Mrs. Johansen, and Kirsti leave by train for Uncle Henrik's
home in Gilleleje, arrive, and come across a young kitten.
Kirsti names him Thor, after the God of Thunder. She is laughed at
One peaceful day goes by at Henrik's until Mrs. Johansen tells the
girls that Great-aunt Birte has died and they will be having a
. However, Annemarie knows that
Great-aunt Birte doesn't exist, and confronts Uncle Henrik. He
explains to her that it is easier to be brave when you don't know
the full truth, and gives no further explanation.
Strangers arrive at Uncle Henrik house, among them a rabbi and
several Jewish families. Ellen's parents and Peter Nielsen arrives
after dark cars filled with Nazi soldiers arrive at the house. A
soldier questions Annemarie about the funeral, and asks her mother
to open the casket. Annemarie's mother tells the soldier that
Great-aunt Birte died of typhus
but she will
be only too happy to open the casket. The officer slaps her face
and leaves, putting out the candles with a gloved hand. Peter reads
a Psalm to the group from the Bible, recounting the Lord God
numbering the stars. Annemarie thinks that it is impossible to
number the stars in the sky, and that the world is cold and very
Peter opens the casket and distributes warm clothing and blankets
to the Jewish families. They put on the clothing and walk out on a
trail at night, splitting up to be less conspicuous. Peter leads
the first group, while Annemarie's mother leaves with the second.
Annemarie says goodbye to Ellen and goes to sleep for the
In the morning she finds that her mother has not returned.
Annemarie looks out the window to see her lying on the grass below.
She frantically runs outside and finds, to her relief, that her
mother has only broken her ankle. They realize that a package
important to the Resistance was accidentally left behind by Mr.
Rosen. Mrs. Johansen, knowing the importance of the package, gives
Annemarie a basket and puts the package inside. She places cheese,
bread and an apple on top to hide it. Annemarie runs off, onto a
wooded path towards her uncle's boat.
When she gets near the harbor, she is stopped by German soldiers on
patrol. She lies and says she is merely delivering lunch to her
uncle. The soldiers toss some of the food onto the ground.
Eventually they reach the packet, which they tear open to find only
. The German soldiers
laugh, toss the cheese and handkerchief to the ground, and walk
away. Annemarie continues onward to Uncle Henrik and gives him the
boards his fishing boat and leaves for Sweden.
Uncle Henrik returns to Denmark later that evening and while
teaching Annemarie how to milk a cow, explains that the Rosens were
hiding in his boat and the handkerchief contained a chemical used
to temporarily numb the German dogs' sense of smell.
Two years later, the war ends and all of Denmark celebrates.
Annemarie knows that the Rosens will return soon. It is during this
celebration that several revelations are made; Peter was captured
and executed by the Germans and Annemarie's sister, Lise, was not
killed in a car accident, but had been deliberately run down by the
Nazis, who knew she was part of the Resistance. The Jews who were
forced to leave Denmark will return, and their friends and
neighbors have kept up their apartments for them in anticipation of
the return. Before the Rosens come back, Annemarie asks her father
to mend Ellen's Star of David necklace (which had been broken off
the night the Nazis broke into the apartment in order to conceal
her identity), wanting to wear it herself in honor of her.
Characters in Number the Stars
- Annemarie Johansen is an active ten-year-old girl and is the
protagonist of the story. She saves Ellen from being killed by the
- Ellen Rosen is Annemarie's best friend, who is also ten years
old. She is Jewish.
- Kirsti Johansen is Annemarie's five-year-old little sister. She
is a chatterbox and a big pain to Annemarie and Ellen.
- King Christian X was the King
of Denmark in 1943.
- German Soldiers are the main antagonists of the novel.
- Lise Johansen is Annemarie's deceased older sister who
Annemarie loved very much.
- Mr. Johansen is Annemarie's father
- Mr. Rosen is Ellen's father.
- Mrs.(Inge) Johansen is Annemarie's mother.
- Mrs.(Sophy) Rosen is Ellen's mother.
- Mrs. Hirsch is a Jewish woman who ran a button store and was
captured by the Nazis.
- Mrs. Hirsch's son is named Samuel and according to Ellen is
- Peter Nielsen is Lise's ex-fiance who misses Lise very much and
- Uncle Henrik is Annemarie's uncle.
- Mr. Hirsch is Mrs. Hirsch's husband and Samuel's father.
- Thor the cat is a gray kitten named by Kirsti.