Sunday, May 1, 2011

Number the Stars

by Louis Lowry
A story about courage and bravery.  A story about the integrity of the people in Copenhagen, Denmark after the Nazis invaded their community.
This narrative is told through the eyes of ten-year –old Annemarie Johnson.  Initially, when the Germans took over Copenhagen in 1943, life continued as usual for Annemarie.  It wasn’t until the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people begins, when everything changes.  A rabbi told his congregation that the Nazis had taken the synagogue’s list of all the Jews to include their names and addresses.  Annemarie’s family agrees to take in a Jewish child who was a friend of Annemarie.  Thus, Annemarie’s family becomes involved in the Resistance effort.  Annemarie’s friend, Ellen Rosen, poses as Annemarie’s dead sister Lise. 
Annemarie begins to question the adults in her life as she learns that her mother and uncle are discussing the death of a relative that Annemarie is sure does not exist.  Her uncle explains to her that they are all trying to be brave. “It is much easier to be brave if you don’t know everything.” 
Annemarie has an opportunity to show tremendous bravery as she is running through the woods to bring her uncle an envelope.  She has no idea what is in the envelope, but she know it is crucial for the relocation effort to be a success.  She does it and is stopped by the German police.  The suspense and intensity is deeply felt, not knowing what would happen to Annemarie or the people on her uncle’s boat.  Annemarie was successful and she was able to act the role of the innocent child because she honestly didn’t know what was in the envelope.
 Lowry includes an afterword in her book to clarify questions the reader may have.  She explains that Annemarie Johnson is fictitious, although she has a friend Annelise Platt who lived in Copenhagen during the time of the German occupation.  After reading there was a handkerchief in the envelope I was wondering why?  What could that be symbolic of?  Why a handkerchief?  The handkerchief really was a part of history.  “After the Nazis began to use police dogs to sniff out hidden passengers on the fishing boats, Swedish scientists worked swiftly to prevent such detection.  They created a powerful powder composed of dried rabbit’s blood and cocaine; the blood attracted the dogs, and when they sniffed at it, the cocaine numbed their noses and destroyed, temporarily, their sense of smell.  Almost every boat captain used such a permeated handkerchief, and many lives were saved by the device.” 
Lowry does a great job creating the sense of realism.  There is an authentic setting and dialogue during this period in time.  The characters’ responses to the historical events were real.  There is such power behind her words.  One must reflect on that time period and the courage of the people.  Especially, a child.  If I was ten, would I have had the courage to do what Annemarie did?  Ellen was lucky to leave with her family.  There are others whose children left alone.  It is hard to imagine what it was like for the children and the parents.  Great literature like this brings these stories to life.  Children are able to have a better understanding of the past and hopefully an appreciation for their life as it is today. 
Lowry ends her afterword with a paragraph from a letter written by Kim Malthe-Bruun.  Kim was part of the Resistance.  He was captured and executed when he was twenty-one.  This was from a letter he had written to his mother the night before he was put to death.
….. and 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.  That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of – something he can work and fight for.
I believe we still hunger for this today.  After reading this, one must reflect and think about how each one of us can make a difference.

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