Uncle Henrik, relieved that everyone has made it to his house—the rendezvous point—leaves to go out to the boat and get things ready. Annemarie looks around the room. Though so many people have been reunited, the atmosphere is still tense and anxious. Peter sits alone, deep in thought, while Ellen, sandwiched between her parents, holds their hands tightly but does not smile. Looking at Ellen, Annemarie feels the strange sensation that Ellen has “moved now into a different world, the world of her own family and whatever lay ahead for them.”
As Annemarie looks at the frightened Elle, reunited with her parents but still uncertain of what lies in store for all of them, she understands that despite the love and sisterly bond between them, there is still a whole world of unknowable experience which separates them from one another.
Mama comes over to Annemarie and points out how late it is. Though Annemarie is tired, she doesn’t want to go upstairs to bed. She climbs into a rocking chair and dozes, wanting to stay with Ellen, Peter, and the others. A short while later, Annemarie is pulled out of her dreams by the sweep of headlights across the living room, and the sound of a car door opening and then slamming shut outside. Annemarie hears the familiar approach of heavy boots, and angry pounding on the door.
Annemarie is determined to know exactly what is happening, and is willing to sacrifice her well-being and comfort in pursuit of knowledge and truth.
Several Nazi officers walk into the room and ask why so many people have gathered at this house tonight. Mama explains that there has been a death, and it is “custom” to gather together to pray the night before the funeral. The officers ask the room who died, but no one answers. Only Annemarie speaks up, explaining that her Great-aunt Birte has passed away. One of the officers says he is aware of Danish customs, and wants to know why the casket isn’t open—traditionally, Danes “pay one’s respect by looking [their] loved one[s] in the face.”
Though Mama, Uncle Henrik, and the others have devised a cunning cover for the start of their mission, the Nazis threaten to undermine the entire operation. The soldiers are so suspicious and so determined to find and stamp out freedom and resistance that they would even wreck a mourning family’s gathering.
Annemarie feels a panic come over her, but Mama quickly answers that Great-aunt Birte died of typhus, and her doctor suggested the casket remain closed to prevent the spread of the disease. Mama hurriedly states, though, that the stupid “country doctor” didn’t know what he was talking about, and goes over to the casket to open it. One of the Nazi officers slaps Mama and urges the “foolish woman” to keep the “diseased” body locked away. The officers leave the house quickly, and soon everyone hears the sound of their car driving away.
Mama’s quick thinking distracts the Nazis, and as she plays dumb and attempts to acquiesce to their requests they grow tired of her “foolishness.” Mama’s sacrifice allows the group to evade the Nazis’ careful eyes—for now.
Annemarie runs to Mama and embraces her, while Peter calms everyone down by reading a psalm from the Bible which praises “He who numbers the stars one by one.” Slowly, everyone begins to relax—except the shaken Annemarie. She tries to focus on the words and forget about the Nazis, but as the night breeze ruffles the curtains, she thinks that it is impossible for anyone, even God, to number the stars. The world, Annemarie thinks, is “too cold, too big. And too cruel.” After finishing the psalm, Peter announces that “it is time.” He goes over to the casket and opens up the lid.
In this passage, from which the novel takes its title, Annemarie realizes just how dangerous the fight for freedom is—and just how cruel the world can be. She is overwhelmed by the hatred and brutality she has seen in the Nazis, and questions whether anyone, even God, can understand the world and the people in it.