Number the Stars

Number the Stars Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3-4

Chapter 3


September passes and the weather gets colder. Winters have been especially miserable after German occupation because fuel and electricity are now scarce in Denmark. The Johansens and the Rosens often suffer through freezing nights with no heat source. Despite this hardship, Annemarie, Mama, and Kirsti still find things to laugh about. They joke about how when Kirsti was younger, she would stay warm by sleeping in Mama and Papa’s bed––and then sometimes, she would wet it.

One of the buttons on Kirsti’s jacket breaks. Mama tells Annemarie and Kirsti to visit Mrs. Hirsch, the seamstress, after school to purchase a replacement. When the Johansens and Ellen get to Mrs. Hirsch’s store, however, it is closed. There is a sign in German and a thick padlock on the door. The girls wonder where the Hirsches have gone. Little Kirsti wonders if they have gone on a vacation to the seashore, but Ellen and Annemarie can tell that something bad has happened to the family.

Mama is very worried when Annemarie tells her the reason they could not replace Kirsti’s button. That night, Mama wakes up Annemarie after Kirsti is asleep and brings her into the living room to talk with Papa and Peter. It is very dangerous for Peter to be visiting the Johansens because there is a curfew that prevents Danes from going out at night. However, he has brought seashells for Annemarie and Kirsti and beer for Mama and Papa. Mama and Papa explain that Mrs. Hirsch’s shop is closed because the Germans have ordered the closure of all Jewish-owned businesses. Peter explains that the Germans have been ‘tormenting’ the Jews in other countries for several years, and now they are starting to do the same in Denmark.

Annemarie wonders what will happen to kind Mrs. Hirsch. Mama tells her that Mrs. Hirsch’s friends will take care of her––just like the Johansens might have to do for the Rosens.


In this chapter, Lowry returns to the theme of sacrifice. When Annemarie was seven, she parroted her parents in stating that she would die for King Christian. Now that she is older, she realizes that making sacrifices for others is an incredibly difficult thing to do, even if she loves them. As she falls asleep, she is happy that she will never have to make that choice. However, she will be forced to do exactly that sooner than she thinks. By revealing Annemarie uncertainty's about courage and sacrifice, Lowry establishes a starting point for the development of her character later on in the novel.

Lowry also includes other subtle forms of foreshadowing in this chapter. When Peter brings seashells and beer for the Johansens, he mysteriously explains that his job requires him to travel. Later, Annemarie will learn that Peter is a member of the Resistance, and he goes to the seaside when he is smuggling Jews out of the country. In addition, Kirsti’s naive guess that the Hirsches have left Copenhagen to visit the seashore is indicative of the changes in Denmark as a result of the German occupation. The seashore used to be a fun travel destination for Danish families, but now, this innocence is gone; the seashore (and Peter's seashells) represent something much sinister.

Chapter 4


Annemarie and Ellen play with paper dolls in Annemarie’s apartment. They name the dolls after characters from Gone with the Wind, Mama’s favorite book. When Mama and Kirsti get home, Kirsti throws a tantrum. Because of leather shortages, shoes are very hard to find. Mama has found Kirsti a pair of shoes, but they are made of green fish skin and Kirsti refuses to wear them. Ellen solves the problem by offering to use her father’s ink to make the shoes black.

Kirsti joins the older girls and they pretend that the paper dolls are going to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is a famous amusement park and garden in the heart of Copenhagen. It still exists today, although the Nazis burned part of it down in 1943 (which is when Number the Stars takes place). Annemarie remembers the Tivoli Gardens before the Germans invaded. She also recalls that the Danes bombed their own navy to prevent their German occupiers from using their ships. Kirsti, however, only has warm memories of the navy's destruction: Mama told Kirsti that the explosions were fireworks in honor of her 5th birthday.

As Ellen is about to go home, she mentions that Thursday is the Jewish New Year. Ellen is very excited because her parents have managed to get a chicken for dinner that night. However, when Thursday comes, Mama announces that Ellen will be staying with the Johansens for a few days. She claims that Mr. and Mrs. Rosen are visiting relatives. That night, Ellen and the Johansens eat the Rosens’ New Year chicken for dinner. After Kirsti goes to bed, Papa explains to Annemarie that the Germans have taken the membership lists from Copenhagen’s synagogues. The Germans are planning to arrest the country’s Jews and ‘relocate’ them. Mr. and Mrs. Rosen have gone with Peter to a safe place. Ellen, meanwhile, will stay with the Johansens and pretend to be Annemarie’s sister.


In Chapter 4, Lowry shows how World War II has forced Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirsti to grow up too fast, despite their parents' attempts to shelter them. At the beginning of the chapter, the girls are most concerned about their paper dolls and the color of their shoes. However, Lowry gradually reveals how the war has affected their young lives. Playing with the paper dolls reminds Annemarie of Tivoli Gardens, a wonderful amusement park that the Germans have destroyed. The war rapidly becomes even more serious when the girls learn that Ellen’s family is in danger.

Lowry makes it clear from the beginning of the novel that Ellen and her family are Jewish, but that does not affect the Johansens' relationship with them. Although Denmark had a very tolerant culture during World War II, Jews were in the minority there. There were only 7,800 Jews in the whole country—about 0.2% of the population (United States Holocaust Museum, 2013). In this section, Lowry shows how important Jewish culture is to the Rosens. They are very proud of their special holidays and traditions, such as lighting candles and attending synagogue on Jewish New Year. Meanwhile, Annemarie and Kirsti find the Rosens' Jewish traditions fascinating and exciting.

The Johansen family’s brave decision to help the Rosens shows the true meaning of friendship - especially during a time when many relationships were severed because of fear and prejudice. When the Hirsches disappear, Mama tells Annemarie, “Friends will take care of them. That’s what friends do” (22). This moment foreshadows the Johansens’ decision to help rescue the Rosens. Although they are not related by blood, and despite their differing religious beliefs, the Johansens think of the Rosens as family. At the end of Chapter 4, when Ellen moves into the Johansen's apartment, Papa says, "Once, I had three daughters. Tonight I am proud to have three daughters again" (36).