Number the Stars

by

Lois Lowry

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Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity  Theme Icon
Bravery Theme Icon
Reality vs. Fantasy Theme Icon
Sisterhood Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Number the Stars, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity  Theme Icon

At the heart of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars is a story of what it means to wield social power and privilege. As her Nazi-occupied hometown of Copenhagen, Denmark, grows more and more hostile towards its Jewish residents, ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her non-Jewish family step up and sacrifice their own safety in order to help their Jewish friends and neighbors escape. Annemarie summons the courage to risk her own safety—and indeed her social privilege—to stand in solidarity with her Jewish friend, Ellen Rosen, and eventually deliver the girl to safety. Through Annemarie’s story, Lowry argues that those with social privilege in any society must use their power to stand alongside—and make sacrifices for—those who are underprivileged or persecuted.

Annemarie and her family, the Johansens, are struggling emotionally and economically under the Nazi occupation of Copenhagen—but compared to their Jewish neighbors, they move through the city with much less fear and trepidation. At the start of the novel, Annemarie believes that she and her family are “ordinary people” who will never be called upon to act heroically or risk their own safety for others. On the day of the Jewish New Year, though, when Nazis begin actively hunting down the Jews in the community, the Johansens know they must do whatever they can to help their neighbors, even if it means risking their anonymity, their safety, and the little social privilege they still wield.

When the Nazis stationed throughout Copenhagen begin the process of “relocating” the city’s Jews, the Johansens take in Ellen Rosen, the daughter of the Jewish family downstairs from them, and pass her off as one of their own while Ellen’s parents are hidden away by the Resistance—a secret group of Danish people “determined to bring harm to the Nazis” by any means necessary. Though Annemarie and her parents are taking a risk in opening their home to Ellen, they know that they are the girl’s only chance at survival. They are thus willing to put their lives on the line to do what’s right. Annemarie’s Papa even says he is “proud” to shelter Ellen and to welcome her into his home as his daughter; Annemarie, who’d been naïve as to what would soon be asked of her and her family, embraces Ellen as her new “sister” without a second thought. The Johansens prove themselves to be a selfless family willing to risk their safety and stand in solidarity with their neighbors. When Nazis come knocking at the Johansens’ door, suspicious as to why they have one dark-haired daughter when all of the rest of them are blonde, the Johansens do not waver in defending Ellen as one of their own. Though one false word could bring their whole lives tumbling down, the Johansens know that it is more important to act in the interest of the greater good, and to use their privilege to defend the defenseless.

After the encounter with the Nazis, the Johansens realize that simply putting themselves between Ellen and the soldiers and hoping for the best is not enough—they know that they must risk even more so that Ellen and her family can be safe. Annemarie, her younger sister Kirsti, and Ellen go with Annemarie’s Mama to the seaside home of her brother Henrik, a fisherman who regularly smuggles Jews across the narrow sea to the free, unoccupied country of Sweden. Though Henrik risks his life daily for the greater good, it is Annemarie and her mother’s first time playing a role in one of his rescue missions. In spite their increasing fear, they all know that they must see Ellen’s journey through, and help her to reunite with her parents and escape to safety—even though down at the seashore, in the placid countryside, there are many Nazi soldiers stationed and ready to stop smugglers in their tracks. At Henrik’s house, the stakes are higher than ever—an operation to smuggle the Rosens and several other Jews out of the country is in full swing, and yet the presence of Nazi soldiers threatens to undermine the effort at every turn. Annemarie, her mother, and her uncle risk their very lives to make sure that their plans are kept under wraps. Even as Annemarie’s mother faces violence from soldiers who arrive at Henrik’s house to search it and Annemarie herself is forced to lie to the soldiers, risking her own well-being should she be caught, everyone working on behalf of the Danish Jews knows that their escape will only be possible through the support, solidarity, and sacrifice of non-Jewish allies.

Through Annemarie’s journey, Lowry shows time and time again how essential it is for “ordinary people” to look out for one another in the face of encroaching danger, oppression, and cruelty. Lowry uses the sacrifices that Annemarie and her family make to show how, more broadly, society’s most privileged members must protect its weakest ones. Even if it means risking everything, the privileged must help the persecuted and the less-fortunate; only through sacrifice and solidarity, Lowry argues, can righteousness and justice flourish.

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Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity ThemeTracker

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Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity Quotes in Number the Stars

Below you will find the important quotes in Number the Stars related to the theme of Privilege, Sacrifice, and Solidarity .
Chapter 2 Quotes

Redheaded Peter, her sister’s fiancé, had not married anyone in the years since Lise’s death. He had changed a great deal. Once he had been like a fun-loving older brother to Annemarie and Kirsti, teasing and tickling, always a source of foolishness and pranks. Now he still stopped by the apartment often, and his greetings to the girls were warm and smiling, but he was usually in a hurry, talking quickly to Mama and Papa about things Annemarie didn’t understand. He no longer sang the nonsense songs that had once made Annemarie and Kirsti shriek with laughter. And he never lingered anymore.

Papa had changed, too. He seemed much older and very tired, defeated.

The whole world had changed. Only the fairy tales remained the same.

“And they lived happily ever after,” Annemarie recited, whispering into the dark, completing the tale for her sister, who slept beside her, one thumb in her mouth.

Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Now she was ten, with long legs and no more silly dreams of pink-frosted cupcakes. And now she—and all the Danes—were to be bodyguard for Ellen, and Ellen’s parents, and all of Denmark’s Jews.

Would she die to protect them? Truly? Annemarie was honest enough to admit, there in the darkness, to herself, that she wasn’t sure.

For a moment she felt frightened. But she pulled the blanket up higher around her neck and relaxed. It was all imaginary, anyway—not real. It was only in the fairy tales that people were called upon to be so brave, to die for one another. Not in real-life Denmark. Oh, there were the soldiers; that was true. And the courageous Resistance leaders, who sometimes lost their lives; that was true, too.

But ordinary people like the Rosens and the Johansens? Annemarie admitted to herself, snuggling there in the quiet dark, that she was glad to be an ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage.

Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“You said that we would hide her. How can we do that? Where can she hide?”

Papa smiled. “That part is easy. It will be as your mama said: you two will sleep together in your bed, and you may giggle and talk and tell secrets to each other. And if anyone comes—”

Ellen interrupted him. “Who might come? Will it be soldiers? Like the ones on the corners?” Annemarie remembered how terrified Ellen had looked the day when the soldier had questioned them on the corner.

“I really don’t think anyone will. But it never hurts to be prepared. If anyone should come, even soldiers, you two will be sisters. You are together so much, it will be easy for you to pretend that you are sisters.”

[…]

Annemarie and Ellen got to their feet. Papa suddenly crossed the room and put his arms around them both. He kissed the top of each head: Annemarie’s blond one, which reached to his shoulder, and Ellen’s dark hair, the thick curls braided as always into pigtails.

“Don’t be frightened,” he said to them softly. “Once I had three daughters. Tonight I am proud to have three daughters again.”

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Ellen Rosen (speaker), Mr. Johansen/Papa (speaker)
Page Number: 37-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“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.

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Ellen Rosen (speaker), Mrs. Johansen/Mama (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ellen’s Necklace
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“So, Henrik, is the weather good for fishing?” Papa asked cheerfully, and listened briefly.

Then he continued, “I’m sending Inge to you today with the children, and she will be bringing you a carton of cigarettes.

“Yes, just one,” he said, after a moment. Annemarie couldn’t hear Uncle Henrik’s words. “But there are a lot of cigarettes available in Copenhagen now, if you know where to look,” he went on, “and so there will be others coming to you as well, I’m sure.”

But it wasn’t true. Annemarie was quite certain it wasn’t true. Cigarettes were the thing that Papa missed, the way Mama missed coffee. He complained often—he had complained only yesterday—that there were no cigarettes in the stores. The men in his office, he said, making a face, smoked almost anything: sometimes dried weeds rolled in paper, and the smell was terrible.

Why was Papa speaking that way, almost as if he were speaking in code? What was Mama really taking to Uncle Henrik?

Then she knew. It was Ellen.

Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Ellen Rosen (speaker), Mrs. Johansen/Mama, Mr. Rosen
Related Symbols: Ellen’s Necklace
Page Number: 64-65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

“How brave are you, little Annemarie?” [Uncle Henrik] asked suddenly. She was startled. And dismayed. It was a question she did not want to be asked. When she asked it of herself, she didn’t like her own answer.

“Not very,” she confessed, looking at the floor of the barn.

Tall Uncle Henrik knelt before her so that his face was level with hers. Behind him, Blossom lowered her head, grasped a mouthful of hay in her mouth, and drew it in with her tongue. The kitten cocked its head, waiting, still hoping for spilled milk.

“I think that is not true,” Uncle Henrik said. “I think you are like your mama, and like your papa, and like me. Frightened, but determined, and if the time came to be brave, I am quite sure you would be very, very brave.

“But,” he added, “it is much easier to be brave if you do not know everything. And so your mama does not know everything. Neither do I. We know only what we need to know.

“Do you understand what I am saying?” he asked, looking into her eyes.

Annemarie frowned. She wasn’t sure. What did bravery mean?

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Uncle Henrik (speaker)
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

[Peter’s] eyes turned to the page he had opened at random, and he began to read in a strong voice.

O praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing psalms to our God!
How pleasant to praise him!
The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem;
he gathers in the scattered sons of Israel.
It is he who heals the broken in spirit
and binds up their wounds,
he who numbers the stars one by one . . .

[…]

The words were unfamiliar to her, and she tried to listen, tried to understand, tried to forget the war and the Nazis, tried not to cry, tried to be brave. The night breeze moved the dark curtains at the open windows. Outside, she knew, the sky was speckled with stars. How could anyone number them one by one, as the psalm said? There were too many. The sky was too big.

Ellen had said that her mother was frightened of the ocean, that it was too cold and too big.

The sky was, too, thought Annemarie. The whole world was: too cold, too big. And too cruel.

Page Number: 86-87
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“The old man stumbled. But Peter helped him up. He didn’t seem to be hurt. Maybe just his pride,” she added, smiling a bit.

It was an odd word: pride. Annemarie looked at the Rosens, sitting there, wearing the misshapen, ill-fitting clothing, holding ragged blankets folded in their arms, their faces drawn and tired. She remembered the earlier, happier times: Mrs. Rosen, her hair neatly combed and covered, lighting the Sabbath candles, saying the ancient prayer. And Mr. Rosen, sitting in the big chair in their living room, studying his thick books, correcting papers, adjusting his glasses, looking up now and then to complain good-naturedly about the lack of decent light. She remembered Ellen in the school play, moving confidently across the stage, her gestures sure, her voice clear.

All of those things, those sources of pride—the candlesticks, the books, the daydreams of theater—had been left behind in Copenhagen. They had nothing with them now; there was only the clothing of unknown people for warmth, the food from Henrik’s farm for survival, and the dark path ahead, through the woods, to freedom.

[…]

But their shoulders were as straight as they had been in the past: in the classroom, on the stage, at the Sabbath table. So there were other sources, too, of pride, and they had not left everything behind.

Page Number: 93-94
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

“Uncle Henrik,” [Annemarie] asked, “where are the Rosens and the others? I thought you were taking them to Sweden on your boat. But they weren’t there.”

“They were there,” he told her, leaning forward against the cow’s broad side. “You shouldn’t know this. You remember that I told you it was safer not to know.

“But,” he went on, as his hands moved with their sure and practiced motion, “I will tell you just a little, because you were so very brave.”

“Brave?” Annemarie asked, surprised. “No, I wasn’t. I was very frightened.”

“You risked your life.”

“But I didn’t even think about that! I was only thinking of—”

He interrupted her, smiling. “That’s all that brave means—not thinking about the dangers. Just thinking about what you must do. Of course you were frightened. I was too, today. But you kept your mind on what you had to do. So did I. Now let me tell you about the Rosens.”

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Uncle Henrik (speaker), Ellen Rosen, Mrs. Rosen, Mr. Rosen
Page Number: 122-23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17 Quotes

That night, Annemarie’s parents told her the truth about Lise’s death at the beginning of the war.

“She was part of the Resistance, too,” Papa had explained. “Part of the group that fought for our country in whatever ways they could.”

“We didn’t know,” Mama added. “She didn’t tell us. Peter told us after she died.”

“Oh, Papa!” Annemarie cried. “Mama!”

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Mrs. Johansen/Mama (speaker), Mr. Johansen/Papa (speaker), Peter Neilsen, Lise Johansen
Page Number: 129-130
Explanation and Analysis:

[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.”

Related Characters: Annemarie Johansen (speaker), Mr. Johansen/Papa (speaker), Ellen Rosen, Lise Johansen
Related Symbols: Ellen’s Necklace
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis: