"It is important to be one of the crowd, always. Be one of many. Be sure that they never have reason to remember your face."
At the beginning of the novel, Mrs. Rosen gives Annemarie and Ellen valuable advice about how to avoid the Nazis. Although Mrs. Rosen might seem extremely cautious––or even paranoid––to modern readers, she had a good reason to be worried. In German-occupied countries, Jewish citizens were arrested and 'relocated' to concentration camps, where they were enslaved or killed. Although Ellen's dark hair makes it hard for her to hide her identity, she can avoid confrontations with German soldiers by making an effort to remain inconspicuous.
“Friends will take care of them. That’s what friends do.”
Mama repeats this quote several times throughout the novel. To Mama and Papa, taking care of the Rosens is a non-negotiable responsibility. The two families have lived together for so long that they are like one family, and the Rosens would certainly sacrifice their lives for the Johansens if their positions were reversed. Mama's words also serve as reassurance to Annemarie, who is concerned about the the safety of other Jewish families she knows in Copenhagen, like the Hirsches. When Mama talks about friends, she is referring to the entire population of Denmark––all of whom see themselves as friends of the Jews during this challenging time.
“It was all imaginary, anyway—not real. It was only in the fairy tales that people were called upon to be so brave, to die for one another. Not in real-life Denmark. Oh, there were the soldiers; that was true. And the courageous Resistance leaders, who sometimes lost their lives; that was true too. But ordinary people like the Rosens and the Johansens? Annemarie admitted to herself, snuggling there in the quiet dark, that she was glad to be an ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage.”
Early in Number the Stars, Annemarie watches others being brave around her but is relieved that she will never be called upon to show the same level courage. Peter Neilsen, for example, regularly risks his life for the Resistance. However, it is not long before Annemarie, too, must aid in the dangerous mission to rescue a group of Jewish refugees from the German soldiers. Although Annemarie is rightfully fearful while undertaking such a dangerous mission, she shows courage by acknowledging her fear and then overcoming it on order to carry out the task at hand.
“Once I had three daughters. Tonight I am proud to have three daughters again.”
In this passage, Papa references his eldest daughter, Lise. At this point in the novel, Annemarie thinks that Lise died in a car accident. However, she learns at the end of the novel that the German soldiers intentionally ran over Lise when they discovered that she was part of the Danish Resistance. Although the Johansens will never get their eldest daughter back, they use Lise's name and her baby pictures to shelter Ellen from the Nazis. In a way, this gesture keeps Lise's memory alive. Although she is gone, she is still able to fight for her cause and protect a little girl who was like a sister to her.
“My parents have always told me that education is the most important thing. Whatever happens, I must get an education.”
Ellen's father is a teacher, so it makes sense that he would teach his daughter the importance of education. Education is just one of the many sacrifices that the Rosens must make to save their lives after the Germans invade. Mr. Rosen loses his job, and Ellen cannot go to school once the Germans start arresting and 'relocating' Jews. Ellen shows great maturity in this scene. While many children might enjoy getting time away from school, Ellen recognizes that losing her access to education will hurt her in the long run.
“It is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything. And so your mama does not know everything. Neither do I. We only know what we need to know.”
Many of the characters in Number the Stars show courage in the face of danger. At the beginning of the novel, Annemarie thinks that people like Peter and Uncle Henrik must not feel fear the way she does. However, after her involvement in rescuing the Rosens, Annemarie learns that everyone feels fear. Being brave does not mean ignoring your fears––it just means accepting them and trying to fight through them. Annemarie learns many strategies for being brave over the course of the novel. When she runs through the woods to deliver the packet to Uncle Henrik, she tells herself fairy tales to keep herself calm. Uncle Henrik also teaches Annemarie the important lesson that sometimes, ignorance can help one to be brave. His strategy serves Annemarie well when the Germans discover Uncle Henrik's handkerchief in the lunch basket. She does not know why it is important, meaning that she does not carry the burden of trying to sell a lie to the Germans.
“Annemarie felt a surge of sadness; the bond of their friendship had not broken, but it was as if Ellen had moved now into a different world, the world of her own family and whatever lay ahead for them.”
Although Ellen and her parents arrive safely in Sweden, the ending of Number the Stars is bittersweet. Annemarie has lost her sister, her brother-in-law, and her best friend to World War II––not to mention her innocence. Although Annemarie hates the idea of being parted from Ellen, part of growing up is recognizing that she must let people go. Because Ellen is safer in Sweden than she was in Denmark, Annemarie is able to accept the temporary loss of her best friend and move on. However, her decision to keep the Star of David necklace in Lise's trunk shows that Annemarie will never forget about Ellen and still hopes for her to return one day.
"It is he who heals the broken in spirit / and binds up their wounds, / he who numbers the stars one by one . . ."
After a close call with the German soldiers, Peter reads a psalm out loud just in case the soldiers are still eavesdropping. Although he picks a page from the Bible at random, he happens upon a very relevant passage––Psalm 147:4. It describes how God helped the Israelites––that is, the Jews––rebuild after they had been persecuted. It describes God as all-knowing: his understanding is so great that he can number and name the stars. The passage is supposed to offer comfort in times of trouble. Therefore, this choice is particularly comforting for the Jewish refugees in the house, who are about to take a great risk to save their lives.
"You will [see Ellen again], little one. You saved her life, after all. Someday you will find her again. Someday the war will end. All wars do."
Uncle Henrik reassures Annemarie that one day, the war will end and she will be reunited with Ellen. Uncle Henrik knows the horrors of war better than anyone. He risks his life on a daily basis to help the Jewish refugees, and he is fully aware that the Germans will murder anyone who resists their rule. However, even he is able to maintain hope that things will get better in the future. Despite the terrible events he has witnessed in the past years, he manages to maintain a sense of perspective and keeps faith that the war will eventually end. This hope keeps him motivated to stay brave and steadfast in the face of danger.
"[Peter] had written a letter to them from prison the night before he was shot. It had said simply that he loved them, that he was not afraid, and that he was proud to have done what he could for his country and for the sake of all free people."
Peter's courageous Resistance activities take on new meaning when readers learn at the end of the novel that the Germans eventually caught and executed him. Lowry based Peter's character on Kim Malthe-Bruun, a young Danish Resistance fighter who she learned about when she was researching Number the Stars. Like Peter, Malthe-Bruun wrote a letter to his family asking them to keep fighting for a world where human decency prevails over narrow-mindedness and prejudice. Peter's decision to make the ultimate sacrifice to fight for a higher ideal sets an example for all the characters in the book.
Number the Stars Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Number the Stars is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Fuel and electricity are being rationed. September passes and the weather gets colder. Winters have been especially miserable after German occupation because fuel and electricity are now scarce in Denmark.