Exploring the Truth Behind ‘Number the Stars’: Fact or Fiction?

A young girl reading 'Number the Stars' inside a cozy, dimly lit library corner, with transparent ghostly images of World War II events and Danish Resistance members floating around her, blending fact and fiction.

Exploring the Truth Behind ‘Number the Stars’: Fact or Fiction?

Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars is a poignant piece of historical fiction that has captivated readers since its publication in 1989. Set against the backdrop of World War II in Copenhagen, Denmark, the novel follows the story of 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her family as they help their Jewish friends, the Rosens, escape the Nazis’ clutches to the safety of Sweden. Over the years, Number the Stars has not only garnered acclaim for its delicate treatment of a harrowing period in history but also sparked curiosity about how much of the narrative is rooted in historical fact. In delving into the truth behind Number the Stars, it becomes clear that while the core narrative is a work of fiction, the context and some of the events described are deeply entrenched in real historical events.

The Intersection of Fact and Fiction

Number the Stars, at its heart, is a story about bravery, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of humanity in the face of terrifying odds. While the characters of Annemarie, her family, and the Rosens are the inventions of Lowry’s imagination, the setting of the story and the conditions under which the characters operate are drawn from real-life events and conditions during World War II.

The Occupation of Denmark

The German occupation of Denmark, which began on April 9, 1940, and lasted until May 5, 1945, is a crucial backdrop for Number the Stars. This period saw the Danish government adopting a strategy of cooperation with the Nazis, aiming to maintain some degree of sovereignty and protect Danish citizens, especially the Jewish population, from the horrors of the Holocaust. The novel accurately portrays the tension and fear that permeated Danish society during the occupation, as well as the gradual shift towards resistance among the Danish people.

The Escape of Danish Jews to Sweden

One of the central events in Number the Stars is the escape of the Jewish characters to Sweden, a neutral country during the war that became a safe haven for refugees. This aspect of the story is firmly rooted in historical truth. In October 1943, when the Nazis planned to round up all Danish Jews, a remarkable grassroots effort led to the majority of them being smuggled out of Denmark to Sweden. Over just a few weeks, fishermen and regular citizens helped over 7,200 Danish Jews—nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark—escape across the sea, in a bold act of mass resistance and humanity.

The King and the Star of David

A popular anecdote often associated with Danish resistance to Nazi policies is the story of King Christian X wearing the Star of David in solidarity with Danish Jews, a story recounted by characters in Number the Stars. While this tale captures the spirit of unity and defiance that characterized much of the Danish response to Nazi occupation, there is no historical evidence to suggest that it actually happened. King Christian did become a powerful symbol of national unity and resistance, but the story of the star is a myth.

Lois Lowry’s Inspiration

Lois Lowry was inspired to write Number the Stars after learning about the Danish resistance during a conversation with her friend, Annelise Platt, who was a child in Copenhagen during the war. Platt’s own experiences and the stories of courage and solidarity she shared with Lowry provided the emotional and historical foundation for the novel. Though the characters and their exploits are fictional, Lowry sought to convey the essence of the Danish people’s collective bravery and kindness during one of history’s darkest hours.

The Legacy of ‘Number the Stars’

Number the Stars remains a significant work not only for its compelling narrative but also for its educational value in introducing young readers to the complexities of World War II, the Holocaust, and the profound capacity for human kindness in the midst of atrocity. By blending fact with fiction, Lois Lowry created a timeless tale that encourages readers to remember the past and recognize the potential for heroism in everyday people.

FAQs About ‘Number the Stars’

Is Number the Stars a true story?

Number the Stars is a work of fiction that tells a story set against the very real historical backdrop of the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. The characters and specific events within the Johansen family’s story are creations of author Lois Lowry. However, the novel is based on the true account of the Danish Resistance’s efforts to save their Jewish fellow citizens by smuggling them to Sweden.

How historically accurate is Number the Stars?

While Number the Stars is a fictional narrative, Lois Lowry went to great lengths to ensure the historical setting and broader events described in the book were accurate. The escape of almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark to Sweden, the general atmosphere of occupied Copenhagen, and the activities of the Danish Resistance are all portrayed with a high degree of historical accuracy. Some specific details and anecdotes, like the story of King Christian X and the Star of David, are rooted more in myth than fact, but they are included to illustrate the spirit of the times.

What aspects of Number the Stars are fictional?

The characters of Number the Stars, including Annemarie Johansen, her family, and the Rosens, are fictional creations of Lois Lowry. Their personal stories, interactions, and the specific details of their contribution to the escape of the Rosens to Sweden are also products of Lowry’s imagination. These elements of the novel serve to convey themes of bravery, sacrifice, and humanity without being direct accounts of real events or people.

Were the Danish King’s actions accurately portrayed in the book?

Number the Stars references the popular, though apocryphal, story of King Christian X wearing the Star of David in solidarity with Danish Jews. While King Christian did indeed become a symbol of Danish pride and resistance during the occupation, there is no historical evidence that he wore the Star of David. The king’s daily horseback rides without a guard through Copenhagen, as a display of his unbroken spirit, are well-documented, but the story of the star is a meaningful myth rather than fact.

How did Lois Lowry research for Number the Stars?

Lois Lowry’s primary inspiration for Number the Stars came from her friend, Annelise Platt, who was a child in Copenhagen during World War II and shared her memories with Lowry. These firsthand accounts provided valuable insights into life during the occupation. Additionally, Lowry conducted further research into the period, the historical events surrounding the escape of Danish Jews to Sweden, and the broader actions of the Danish Resistance to ensure the setting of her novel was as accurate as possible.

What impact has Number the Stars had on its readers and educational use?

Since its publication, Number the Stars has become a vital educational tool, introducing young readers to the history of World War II and the Holocaust through the accessible lens of fiction. It has been praised for its sensitivity in dealing with difficult subjects, its portrayal of heroism and moral courage, and its ability to inspire discussions about history, ethics, and personal responsibility. Teachers and educators widely use the book in curricula related to history, literature, and social studies to help students understand the impact of historical events on individuals and the importance of standing up against oppression.

Can fiction like Number the Stars be a reliable source of historical information?

While fiction inherently prioritizes narrative and character development over strict adherence to historical fact, works like Number the Stars can serve as valuable gateways to historical understanding. By engaging readers emotionally and providing a personal perspective on historical events, such novels can inspire further research and interest in the factual history they are based on. It is important, however, for readers to distinguish between the fictional elements of these stories and the historical realities they represent and to seek out direct historical sources for a comprehensive understanding of the events in question.

What lessons can modern readers learn from Number the Stars?

Number the Stars offers several timeless lessons for readers of all ages. It highlights the importance of courage, empathy, and taking action in the face of injustice. The novel demonstrates how ordinary people can make extraordinary differences in others’ lives through acts of kindness and solidarity. It also serves as a reminder of the horrors of war and the impact of hatred and bigotry, underscoring the value of remembering history to prevent repeating its darkest chapters. Ultimately, Number the Stars encourages readers to consider their roles in their communities and how they might contribute to a more just and compassionate world.

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