Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Big War: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

On September 29, 1943, the Danish Resistance took on a daunting task--to smuggle 7,000 Dansk Jews across the strait into neutral Sweden under the very noses of a well-entrenched Nazi army of occupation.

Ten-year-old best friends Annemarie Johansen and Ellen Rosen have been touched by the food and clothing shortages that have changed their lives since the German invasion, but their immediate thoughts are on the girls' foot racing trials at school and playing paper dolls together. But when Ellen's parents learn that they are be arrested and "relocated," they ask the Johansens to hide their daughter while they slip away during the night with members of the Resistance. Nonetheless, that night the Johansen apartment is invaded by Nazis searching for the Rosens. Annemarie snatches Ellen's Star of David necklace and hides it in her hand, and Ellen, who pretends to be Annemarie's sister, escapes only when Mr. Johansen shows the soldiers photos of their dead daughter whose dark baby curls resemble Ellen's hair color.

Immediately Mrs. Johansen, Annemarie and her sister Kirsten, and Ellen travel to the seaside farm of Uncle Hendrik, a fisherman whose small boat is outfitted with a secret compartment for secreting Jewish families for the trip across the Kattegat, the narrow strait which separates them from Sweden. Using the ruse of a family funeral, the Resistance leaders bring in the Rosens and guided by Annemarie's mother, slip through the woods to the waiting boats under the cover of darkness.

After they leave, Annemarie notices a dropped package which Mr. Rosen was ordered to give Uncle Hendrik when they reached the boat, a packet wih a handkerchief impregnated with a substance which disables the search dogs' ability to scent humans hidden on board. Hastily, Annemarie's mother hides the packet in a lunch basket of bread and cheese and asks her to take it to her Uncle before Nazi searchers reach the boat. Annemarie is halted and searched by Nazi soldiers, who feed the "lunch" to their dogs and joke about unmanly Danish fisherman who need their wives' hankies, but she is finally released. Terrified but determined to save her friend, Annemarie races ahead to pass the packet to her uncle just before the troopers search the boat. Although many Resistance leaders are seized and executed, most of the Jewish refugees, including the Rosens, make the journey safely and survive the war.

Awarded the Newbery Medal in 1990, Number the Stars is dedicated by Lois Lowry to the ideal voiced by a young Danish Resistance fighter, who wrote on the eve of his execution,

I want you all to remember--that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.... This is the great gift our country hungers for....

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  • I'm 26 years old now, so I guess I was around when this book first came out. It is a great story, I remember it well. It vividly shows the brutalness of the Nazi occupation of other countries.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:58 PM  

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