“Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry, published in 1989 brings to life the experiences of Annemarie Johansen, a 10-year-old girl in World War II-era Copenhagen.
The story unfolds in 1943, with Copenhagen under German occupation. Annemarie and her friend, Ellen Rosen, find their lives drastically altered by the presence of Nazi soldiers. The danger escalates when Jewish businesses begin to close, and Ellen, being Jewish, faces imminent threats.
Annemarie’s family, determined to protect Ellen, pretends she is their deceased daughter Lise to evade suspicion.
As the narrative progresses, the Johansens make a daring plan to transport Ellen and her family to safety.
They utilize a fake funeral as a cover to gather Jewish families, including the Rosens, for an escape to Sweden aboard a fishing boat. The plot thickens when Annemarie discovers a crucial packet dropped by Mr. Rosen, meant for the boat.
Braving a tense encounter with Nazi soldiers, she successfully delivers the packet, which contains a special handkerchief designed to impair the scent-tracking ability of Nazi dogs.
The novel ends on a hopeful note, two years after the war, with the Johansens eagerly awaiting the return of the Rosens.
Throughout the story, Lois Lowry masterfully balances a simple writing style with a somber, yet hopeful tone. She explores deep themes like the essence of bravery, the perils and benefits of ignorance, and the stark contrast between fairy tales and harsh realities.
1. The Essence of Bravery and Sacrifice
The novel intricately explores the concept of bravery, not just as grandiose acts of heroism, but also through small, everyday actions underpinned by immense courage.
Annemarie’s journey is a prime example, showcasing how bravery manifests in various forms – from her family’s decision to hide Ellen, a Jewish girl, to Annemarie’s daring delivery of the crucial packet to her uncle’s boat.
These acts of bravery, coupled with the willingness to make sacrifices, highlight how individuals, including children, can make significant impacts during times of adversity.
This theme is further accentuated by the character development of Annemarie, who transitions from an innocent child to someone who understands the weight of her actions in the broader context of the war.
2. The Reality of War and Its Impact on Innocence
The book thoughtfully explores the impact of war on the innocence of children, set against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Denmark.
Through the eyes of young Annemarie, readers witness the stark transformation of a once-peaceful life into a world filled with uncertainty and fear.
The narrative addresses how war forces children to confront harsh realities far beyond their years, eroding their innocence.
This theme is particularly poignant in the portrayal of the children’s interactions with Nazi soldiers and the anxiety that pervades their daily lives.
It also touches on the concept of childhood naivety, as seen in Annemarie’s initial lack of full comprehension of the dangers surrounding her and Ellen.
3. The Strength and Importance of Family and Friendship
Central to the novel is the theme of the unbreakable bonds of family and friendship, especially in times of crisis.
The Johansen family’s unwavering commitment to protecting Ellen, despite the inherent risks, underscores the profound strength of these bonds.
The theme is vividly illustrated through the sacrifices that characters are willing to make for one another, transcending mere friendship to a deeper sense of familial responsibility and loyalty.
This is not limited to blood relations, as seen in the Johansens’ extension of their protective umbrella to Ellen and her family. The narrative also shows how these bonds provide emotional support and a sense of hope amidst the desolation of war.
“Number the Stars” is not just a tale of wartime survival; it’s a poignant coming-of-age story about courage, friendship, and the moral choices in the face of evil.