World War II began in Europe when Nazi Germany began invading its neighboring countries in 1939. The German dictator and leader of the Nazi party, Adolf Hitler, believed that the German people needed more lebensraum, or living space. First, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland. Over the following years, they expanded their occupied territory. Germany invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940. By 1943––the year Number the Stars begins––Germany had taken over Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, and most of France.
Life in the German-occupied countries was always difficult, but some countries welcomed the Germans more than others. For example, Austria was so willing to accept Germany that they did not even engage their military force - Austrian leaders simply agreed to unify the two countries without any bloodshed. However, the citizens of Denmark were extremely opposed to German rule. The Danes were very patriotic and vocally opposed the Germans' cruel tactics, especially the violence they inflicted on the country's Jewish citizens.
The Danish Resistance was extremely organized and effective. Ordinary Danish citizens successfully saved most of the country’s Jewish population from the Nazis by evacuating them to Sweden. They also helped to empower the Allied forces and organized sabotage missions. Starting in 1943, the Germans began to crack down on Resistance activities. The Gestapo tracked down many members of the Resistance and threw them in jail, sent them to concentration camps, or executed them outright. After the war, the world celebrated the Danes' heroism. The Israeli government honored them by listing them as members of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor designed for nations that risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.