The most potent symbol found within the pages of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars is Ellen Rosen’s Star of David necklace, a dainty gold chain from which dangles the universal symbol of Judaism. The necklace is a symbol of the sisterhood and shared identity between Ellen and Annemarie. Though they are not sisters by blood, the mutual respect, devotion, and sacrifice they show one another makes them sisters, perhaps, in an even more profound way. Ellen is never seen without her necklace—and indeed, when Annemarie Johansen urges her to hurriedly take it off after Nazi soldiers arrive at the Johansen’s apartment to search for Ellen and her parents, Ellen confesses that she hasn’t taken the necklace off in so long that she “can’t even remember how to open” its clasp. As the Nazi soldiers approach the bedroom where Annemarie and Ellen are sleeping together in bed, pretending to be sisters so that Ellen won’t be “relocated,” Annemarie reaches over and forcefully yanks the necklace from Ellen’s neck. She holds the necklace tightly in her palm all throughout the confrontation with and interrogation by the soldiers, and by the time they leave, the Star of David symbol has been imprinted onto Annemarie’s palm—signaling her deep connection to her friend, for whom she has already taken a dangerous risk. Annemarie hides the necklace away, promising Ellen that she’ll keep it for her until it’s safe for Ellen to wear the necklace again.
The necklace is not mentioned again until the closing pages of the novel. As Annemarie and her family stand on their apartment’s balcony, celebrating the news that the war is over, Annemarie slips away to her bedroom to retrieve the necklace from where she’s hidden it—in the folds of her dead older sister Lise’s wedding dress, deep inside a large blue trunk which houses all of Lise’s things. Annemarie brings the necklace out to Papa and asks if he’ll repair it. He agrees, and Annemarie states that she’ll proudly wear the necklace until Ellen and her family, smuggled to Sweden just as the Nazis began rounding up Copenhagen’s Jews, return to the city. The repair of the necklace signals not only Ellen’s eventual return to her home, but that of other Jews forced to flee during the war.
Beyond representing the bond between Annemarie and Ellen, then, the necklace also symbolizes the sameness between all people, regardless of class, color, or creed. When Annemarie decides to wear Ellen’s necklace as if it’s her own, she’s showing that she—like a true sister—is willing to shoulder the burdens Ellen has had to bear, and to align herself with her at any cost. Annemarie knows the inherent worth of all life, and even in the face of fear, destruction, and rampant anti-Semitism throughout Europe, she has risked and sacrificed for Ellen and for her Jewish neighbors.
Ellen’s Necklace Quotes in Number the Stars
“Ellen,” [Annemarie] whispered urgently, “take your necklace off!”
Ellen’s hands flew to her neck. Desperately she began trying to unhook the tiny clasp. Outside the bedroom door, the harsh voices and heavy footsteps continued.
“I can’t get it open!” Ellen said frantically. “I never take it off—I can’t even remember how to open it!”
Annemarie heard a voice just outside the door. “What is here?”
“Shhh,” her mother replied. “My daughters’ bedroom. They are sound asleep.”
“Hold still,” Annemarie commanded. “This will hurt.” She grabbed the little gold chain, yanked with all her strength, and broke it. As the door opened and light flooded into the bedroom, she crumpled it into her hand and closed her fingers tightly.
Terrified, both girls looked up at the three Nazi officers who entered the room.
Ellen touched her neck after she had put on Annemarie’s flower-sprigged nightgown, which Mama had packed.
“Where is my necklace?” she asked. “What did you do with it?”
“I hid it in a safe place,” Annemarie told her. “A very secret place where no one will ever find it. And I will keep it there for you until it is safe for you to wear it again.”
Ellen nodded. “Papa gave it to me when I was very small,” she explained.
She sat down on the edge of the old bed and ran her fingers along the handmade quilt that covered it. The flowers and birds, faded now, had been stitched onto the quilt by Annemarie’s great-grandmother many years before.
“I wish I knew where my parents are,” Ellen said in a small voice as she outlined one of the appliqued birds with her finger.
Annemarie didn’t have an answer for her. She patted Ellen’s hand and they sat together silently.
[Annemarie] turned and went to her bedroom, where the blue trunk still stood in the corner, as it had all these years. Opening it, Annemarie saw that the yellow dress had begun to fade; it was discolored at the edges where it had lain so long in folds.
Carefully she spread open the skirt of the dress and found the place where Ellen’s necklace lay hidden in the pocket. The little Star of David still gleamed gold.
“Papa?” she said, returning to the balcony, where her father was standing with the others, watching the rejoicing crowd. She opened her hand and showed him the necklace. “Can you fix this? I have kept it all this long time. It was Ellen’s.”
Her father took it from her and examined the broken clasp. “Yes,” he said. “I can fix it. When the Rosens come home, you can give it back to Ellen.”
“Until then,” Annemarie told him, “I will wear it myself.”