Number the Stars

Number the Stars Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-17

Chapter 16


When Annemarie gets home from the harbor, she finds out that Mama has gone to the hospital. In the absence of an adult, Annemarie milks Blossom by herself. Later, Mama comes home with a cast. Because Annemarie was brave, Uncle Henrik agrees to explain to her how the Rosens escaped from Denmark. Uncle Henrik concealed Ellen, her family, and the other refugees in a secret compartment at the bottom of his boat.

The handkerchief in the packet was soaked in a special drug intended to deceive the German dogs. The German soldiers were aware of Jewish refugees escaping to Sweden in fishing boats, so they would send highly-trained dogs to sniff out the scent of humans, which even the overpowering smell of fish could not hide. However, the drug-soaked handkerchiefs attracted the dogs, and once they smelled it, they would temporarily lose their sense of smell. By bringing the handkerchief to Uncle Henrik, Annemarie saved the Rosens’ lives.

Uncle Henrik tells Annemarie that shortly after she delivered the packet, the Germans came with their dogs to sniff for refugees on the boat, but they found nothing. Without the handkerchief, though, the refugees and Uncle Henrik would have been compromised. Uncle Henrik explains that the Rosens will be safe in Sweden because the Nazis will not invade for political reasons. He reassures Annemarie that she will see Ellen again after the war is over, and they go inside.


In Chapter 16, Uncle Henrik rewards Annemarie's exceptional courage and maturity. Although he was reluctant at first to tell her about the Rosens’ escape, Annemarie shows through her actions that she is brave and responsible enough to keep the secret. In a situation where many lives are at stake, Annemarie must earn the trust of the adults before they can confidently share their plans with her.

Annemarie demonstrates her maturity throughout the chapter, even in less urgent situations. When she returns to Uncle Henrik's home after delivering the packet, she realizes that Blossom needs to be milked, and because there is no adult in the house, she does it herself. She also cheers Kirsti up, who is upset because Ellen left without making a dress for her doll. Annemarie knows that Kirsti is behaving selfishly only because she does not know the reason for the Rosens’ midnight escape. Even if Annemarie is annoyed about Kirsti's childlike concerns, she does not scold her sister. Instead, she simply promises to make the dress in Ellen’s place.

Uncle Henrik’s explanation about the dogs resolves several lingering questions from the previous chapters. It helps explain why the dogs acted like they smelled meat in Annemarie’s basket. It also explains the urgency of Annemarie’s mission––any delay on her part would have resulted in a major tragedy - instead of escaping, the Rosens, the other refugees, and Uncle Henrik would have been "relocated" or killed.

Although Number the Stars deals with a very dark subject matter, it also includes many moments of humor and optimism. Despite the frightening, life-or-death situations Uncle Henrik describes, the chapter ends on a light note, with Thor the kitten falling into a bowl of milk. Humorous moments in a dark story are called comic relief. In addition to serving as comic relief, moments like this also hint at the resilience of children like Annemarie. Although they grew up in a violent and dangerous time, Annemarie and Kirsti still manage to retain the optimism and innocence of childhood.

Chapter 17


Two years later, the war ends. As the Germans retreat, the Danes sing the national anthem and hang flags in their windows. Annemarie reveals that only a few months before, Peter was captured by the Nazis and shot in a public square. On the day of his execution, Mama and Papa told Annemarie that the Nazis murdered Lise as well. Lise and Peter had both been part of the Resistance. German soldiers raided one of their secret meetings and everyone scattered. The Germans purposefully mowed Lise down in a car as she tried to escape.

The day the war ends, Annemarie opens Lise’s wedding trunk and finds her older sister’s engagement dress. She removes Ellen’s Star of David necklace from the pocket. Annemarie asks Papa to fix the necklace's chain, which broke when Annemarie ripped it off Ellen’s neck two years before. Annemarie decides to wear the necklace herself, keeping it safe for Ellen until she is able to return to Denmark.


Throughout Number the Stars, Lowry makes many symbolic connections between Ellen and Lise. Both girls had dark hair (although Lise's lightened as she grew older). Both girls suffered because of the German occupation and faced their trials heroically. When Ellen moves in with the Johansen family temporarily, Mr. Johansen states that their family feels complete because once again, they have three daughters. It is appropriate, then, that Annemarie hides Ellen’s necklace in Lise’s dress. This gesture once again ties these two girls together. Lise sacrificed her life in the fight against the Nazis, and even after her death, she is able to keep fighting for Ellen's safety.

Peter’s death is tragic, but true to life. Lowry based his character on the many young people who fought in the Danish Resistance and were killed by the Gestapo. In her afterword to the novel, Lowry explains that Peter’s letter to the Johansens is based on a similar letter written by Kim Malthe-Bruun. Like Peter, Kim was a young man who was murdered by the Gestapo because of his role in the Resistance. He wrote a letter to his mother on the eve of his execution urging his family to fight for “an ideal of human decency” (116). Although Annemarie is too young to join the Resistance at ten, it is entirely believable that she would have done so if she were slightly older during the war, like her sister. Regardless, she does everything in her power to support the cause, following in her older sister's footsteps.