Number The Stars Chapter 3


Where is Mrs. Hirsch?

It is now October. There’s no fuel to heat homes, so people in Annemarie’s apartment building use wood stoves. Electricity is also being rationed, which is annoying because Ellen’s father is a teacher and can’t see to grade his students’ papers by candlelight.

As Annemarie and Kirsti are about to leave for school that morning, Mrs. Johansen goes to button Kirsti’s jacket, but discovers that one of the buttons is broken. She tells Annemarie to stop by the button shop after school and get one that matches.

Unfortunately, when the girls stop by the shop, there is a padlock on the door and a sign in German. No one can read German, so they immediately start speculating.

I wonder if Mrs. Hirsch is sick,” Annemarie said as they walked away.

I saw them Saturday,” Ellen said. She was with her husband and son. They all looked just fine. Or at least, the parents looked just fine. Their son always looks like a horror.”

Ellen saw the Hirsch family “on Saturday.” The Hirsch family is Jewish, just like Ellen. They probably go to the same synagogue.

There’s some light teasing about Samuel Hirsch, an awkward boy who wears glasses and rides a bike with wooden tires.

Kirsti announces that she think the Hirsch family has gone to the seashore. Annemarie sarcastically replies that they probably took pink frosted cupcakes. Her sarcasm flies right over Kirsti’s head, and they both think about how dumb she is.

I’m going to point out that perhaps Kirsti isn’t so much stupid as she is self deluded. Kirsti is 5. 5 is old enough to know that that symbol is associated with the soldiers who invaded their country. 5 is old enough to understand that Something is Wrong. But 5 also isn’t really old enough to know what to do with that information, and so “maybe they all went on vacation to the seashore” is something that she tells herself because she wants to think it’s true. Because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. Or because 5 is too young to know there is a horrific alternative.

I might be projecting a little bit but most 5 year olds are actually a lot more observant than they are given credit for.

Mrs. Johansen is upset to hear about all the button shop being closed, and immediately goes to visit the Rosens.

That night Annemarie’s mother wakes her up, because Peter’s here. Peter gives her 2 seashells, one for her, and one to give to Kirsti.

Peter’s presents for her parents are much better: 2 bottles of beer! I can only imagine what Peter went through to get them, since beer has been in short supply as of late.

Peter informs Annemarie that Germans are closing shops owned by Jews, as a way to torment them. That’s the exact phrase he uses, “to torment them.” Which is…. a bit simplistic, but nevermind.

Annemarie is confused. How the heck could Mrs. Hirsch be a threat? She’s a nice old lady. Her son is a bit of a dope, but he’s relatively harmless as well and oh hey, how will the Hirsch family survive if they can’t make any money?

Yes, Annemarie, that’s kind of the point.

Annemarie’s mother reassures her that the Hirsch family has friends who will take care of them until their shop is allowed to reopen. “It’s what friends do,” she tells Annemarie.

I’m not sure about Denmark, I’ll have to do some reading, but in a lot of countries the Nazis invaded, a lot of people straight up refused to be friends with Jews anymore.

It reassures Annemarie to think that people will take the Hirsch family fish and potatoes. Perhaps Peter can even bring them some beer.

Then suddenly she sat upright, her eyes wide. “Mamma, papa, the Rosens are Jewish!”

We’ve had small hints of this, of course, but when I read this for the first time, this was a big reveal.

I talked to Sophy Rosen this afternoon, after you told me about the shop,” Mrs. Johansen said. “But she doesn’t think it will affect them.”

Annemarie relaxes. Mr. Rosen is a teacher, she remembers, and they can’t close down an entire school. Can they?

Peter reassures her that the Rosens will be alright, and I can’t honestly tell if he believes what he’s saying or if he’s just going along with this to try and reassure Annemarie. Or himself, for that matter.

As for Sophy Rosen… I can’t say I blame her for thinking this way. It is very easy for me, sitting here in my comfortable 21st century apartment with a WW2 timeline sketched out on my notepad, to wonder at how naive she could possibly be. No, they can’t close an entire school, but they could fire Mr. Rosen and hire someone else.

Perhaps, though, Sophy does know this, but she wants to convince herself that it won’t happen to me.

As do we all. Whenever we hear about something, isn’t that what we think? Young Woman Dies Because She Couldn’t Get An Abortion, the newspaper headline reads.

It won’t happen to me.

Man Dies in Car Accident Driving 90mph Down the Freeway

It won’t happen to me.

Perhaps it won’t. But perhaps it will. No one wants to think about this.

Perhaps this is how someone like Hitler could rise to power. I’m not Jewish. None of these things will happen to me. I’m safe.

I’m not an illegal immigrant. I’m not a minority, a transgender, or a gay person. Sure I’m a woman, but I’m a woman who never does anything wrong, What do I care if Trump becomes president? Sure stuff will happen to them, to those people, but none of that stuff will happen to me.

Let me reassure you, you will not remain unaffected by anything Trump would do as president.

Papa,” says Annemarie, “Do you remember how you told us that all of Denmark was the king’s body guard?”

I’ve never forgotten.”

Well, I think that now, all of Denmark must be bodyguard for the Jews as well.”

Peter leaves, and Annemarie goes back to bed. She thinks about all her family has just talked about. Being bodyguard for Denmark’s Jews, specifically the Rosens.

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

Annemarie is scared for a few minutes, then forces herself to relax.

It was all imaginary, anyway, not real. Only in fairy tales were people called upon to be brave, to die for one another. Not in real life…… Oh sure, the resistance fighters sometimes lost their lives, but ordinary people like the Johansens and the Rosens? Annemarie…. was glad that she was an ordinary person who would never be called upon for courage.

Because it won’t happen to me.



*More honesty than I had at her age.


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