Growing Up Adventist-The Persecution Complex

This post is written as kind of a response to what I read in chapter 3, but I didn’t feel it really belonged in the main post.

I realize now that I am jealous of Annemarie. She gets to go to bed thinking that this stuff isn’t really going to affect her*. Even though she’s living in dangerous times, she really gets to grow up thinking that she’s never going to have to take a bullet for someone, never going to have to risk her life to save someone else.

Adventist children don’t grow up like that.

Adventist children are told, from a very young age, that the things that are happening to Jews in this novel are going to happen to them. And soon. Very soon. How soon? Oh, soon in God’s time is not the same in our time, but it’s definitely very soon. Definitely within the next 5/10/20 years (exact amount of time given varies, depending on how recently it’s been since they’ve seen a Revelation seminar.)

Adventist children like me grow up being told that they will never grow up, because Jesus is going to come first.

But before that happens, we have to go through The Great Tribulation(tm). Adventists are not believers in the rapture. They believe that the only way to avoid the persecution of the great tribulation is to die before it happens. Sometimes insensitive bastards will say that “all the old people are dying off because God is sparing them from the great tribulation,** which is surely one or 2 years down the road.” Such insensitive assholes also say things like, “God probably killed/let that teenager die because he knew they wouldn’t be able to stand up in the Great Tribulation.” Sometimes this is said at funerals in earshot of a family member.

Adventist children are not living in dangerous times at all. Yet, unlike Annemarie, we knew that we will be put into camps and killed, just like the Jews were during the holocaust.We hoped there would be brave people like the Johansens to take us in.

Our teachers were quick to burst that hopeful little bubble. There will be no holdouts in the end times, they said. Everyone will either persecute or be persecuted. There will be no allies, there will only be us, and the only hiding we will be doing will be in the mountains.***

I was in 2nd grade (ages 7-8) when we read this in class. Number The Stars doesn’t contain anything graphic, or even anything too detailed. It doesn’t need to. To a child, the unknown punishment is often just as scary, and in any case, there’s no need to tell the small children in the room everything we know about the Holocaust.

But for us second graders at the SDA elementary school, we weren’t left to wonder about details for too long. My second grade teacher wasn’t one for scare tactics, but the other teachers weren’t so careful. They told us exactly what happened to the Jews during the holocaust, and constantly warned us that, one day soon, it would happen to us.

And there would be no Annemarie to protect us. Only God. Would God protect us from the camps, from death? Well, maybe, but maybe not. He might allow us to be tortured and killed, and we would have to trust that God would help us to get through it. 

Wow. Writing that out, it makes the God we worshiped sound like such a dick.

In any case, Almost all the kids in our class were scared of the tribulation, but not me. After all, I reasoned, the worst the Nazis could do would be to torture and kill me****. But God? God could send me to hell. And that was something to be scared of.

 

 

*Spoiler alert, she’s wrong, but that’s beside the point

**Yes, I have heard this said at funerals.

*** please do not ask what people who live in areas without mountains are supposed to do. Just get killed, I guess.

****In my 11 year old wisdom, I figured that my period cramps were worse than anything the Nazis could inflict on me, and that death might just be a relief at this point.

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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.

Number The Stars Chapter 1

This is a departure from the books I usually take on. However, I need a palate cleanser after those last two, especially if I’m going to tackle Project Sunlight.

I read this book for the first time in 2nd grade. This was handed out to all 20 members of our class in one of those torture sessions where we all had to take turns reading parts of it out loud.*

I may or may not have “forgotten” to hand the book back in when I was done with it.

It was the first time I’d heard about the Holocaust, and the only time I would study it in school.

Number the Stars is a book about 10 year old Annemarie Johansen, growing up in Denmark during world war 2. Her best friend, Ellen, is Jewish. The entirety of the book is spent keeping Ellen and her family safe.

The main protagonist is not Jewish, and we discussed in my University Children’s Literature class why that might be. One theory is that, as this is basically intro to the holocaust 101 for ten year olds, it might have been better for main character to be a bit removed from what was going on within the Jewish community. Another is that, perhaps, child readers might prefer to identify more with Annemarie than with Ellen. Readers could imagine themselves in the position of hero trying to save their best friend instead of imagining themselves as the one being hunted, which would be a whole lot scarier.

What if that were me, the child might think. Would I be brave enough to stand up and help my friend?

What if I were Ellen instead? Would I want my friend to stick by and help me?

I’d be interested in hearing other opinions on this, as this is kind of different from every other children’s book about the holocaust I’ve ever read.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Chapter 1

Why Are You Running?

Race you to the corner, Ellen!” AnneMarie calls out excitedly. Ellen is reluctant at first, but finally agrees. I like the opening paragraphs, because right away you get a sense of the two main protagonist’s personalities and descriptions. “Stocky” Ellen doesn’t want to race. “Lanky” Annemarie, who has longer legs, begs Ellen to race anyway, because she wants to practice for the athletic meet at her school. Ellen finally agrees.  As they run, Annemarie’s “silvery blonde hair” flies out behind her, while Ellen’s “Dark pigtails bounced against her shoulders.”

Annemarie’s little sister, Kirsti, pouts at being left behind.

AnneMarie is tall, blonde, athletic, and “lanky.” Ellen is shorter than Annemarie, stocky, not athletic, and has “dark hair.” Ellen wants to “just walk, like civilized people,” Annemarie isn’t nearly so reserved.

Just as Annemarie reaches the corner (before Ellen), a German soldier orders her to halt. Two German soldiers, actually.

Two helmets, two sets of eyes glaring at her, and four shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path to home.

Oh and 2 rifles.

One of the soldiers asks Annemarie why she was running, and she explains that they were racing, because her school has meets every Friday. She thinks she is babbling too much, and decides she should just answer their questions without volunteering too much information. She also notes that their Danish is very poor, despite them having been in Denmark for 3 years.

This tells us approximately how far into the war we are, giving us a year. The Germans have been in Denmark for 3 years, and Google tells me they invaded in 1940. We’re told at the end of the book that WW2 ends 2 years from now(spoiler alert), so it all fits that this story takes place in the year 1943. In the next chapter, we learn that it is September. September 1943. My maternal grandma was 4 years old.

The soldier nicknamed “Giraffe” asks Annemarie what’s in her book bag, and is she a good student. Books and yes, she answers. Giraffe then asks about Ellen.

Ellen, by the way, hasn’t moved since the soldiers began talking to them.

Annemarie…. saw that Ellen’s face, usually rosy cheeked, was pale, her dark eyes were wide.

Spoiler alert: Ellen is Jewish. She would have had a lot more awareness than Annemarie about what Jews have been facing lately, even if she doesn’t have all the details, and it makes a lot of sense for her to be twice as terrified.

It’s also a good bit of foreshadowing I didn’t pick up on my first 5,000 readings of this book. Ellen is more scared of the soldiers than Annemarie. Why? I guess I just thought Annemarie was the braver of the two, but as a grown up, I’m realizing that Annemarie’s “bravery” here is actually “blissful ignorance.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Annemarie reassures the soldiers that Ellen is much better in school than she is.

Kirsti finally reaches her sister, and the soldier starts asking about her. One of the soldiers reaches down to touch Kirsti’s “short tangled curls,” but Kristi yells at him to stop.

This makes the soldiers laugh. One of them says Kirsti reminds him of his own little girl. He tells the girls to go on home, and no more running in the street.

We get a brief glimpse, here, that the soldiers are human too. But not too much more because that would confuse the shit out of small children, who tend to think in terms of black and white, good and evil.

Annemarie and Ellen are wary of the 2 soldiers guarding the entrance to their apartment building as they pass them, But Kirsti rushes past, chattering.

For Kirsti, the soldiers were simply part of the landscape, something that had always been there, on every corner, as unimportant as lampposts, throughout here remembered life.

Kirsti is described as “a stubborn 5 year old.” The war has been going on for so long that for her, it’s just part of the world around her. The sky is blue, the grass is green, and there are German soldiers on every corner.

Neither Annemarie nor Ellen plan on telling their mothers what happened, but Little Blabbermouth Kirsti ruins it. She reaches the apartment first, and begins telling her mom, Mrs. Johansen, what happened. Incidentally, Mrs. Rosen is visiting Mrs. Johansen.

Mrs. Johansen and Mrs. Rosen are drinking “coffee.” Of course it’s not real coffee, but they call it that anyway. Mrs. Johansen asks her older daughter what really happened.

Mrs. Rosen is frightened, and asks where Ellen is. Wow. This sailed right over my head as a child. A Jewish woman just found out that her 10 year old daughter had a run in with the Nazi soldiers, and didn’t come in with her best friend. I fully grok why “Mrs. Rosen had a frightened look” when she asked, “Where is Ellen?!”

When I was a child and read this book, I thought that the Nazis didn’t start persecuting the Jews until like, about the 3rd chapter or so. And they may not have done it openly until then, but the Rosens, at least, would have been all to well aware of the fact that these things were happening in other countries.

Ten year old me never thought Ellen was in danger at the start of the book.

Annemarie reassures Mrs. Rosen that Ellen, not knowing her mom was visiting the Johansens, is downstairs in the Rosen’s apartment. Annemarie tells the women what really happened, under exaggerating to balance out Kirsti’s exaggeration.

Kirsti says she slapped the soldier’s hand and shouted at him, but Annemarie quickly reassures her mother that this didn’t happen. And she’s half right. Kirsti didn’t slap him.

Mrs. Johansen speaks in a low voice to Mrs. Rosen. She tells her the soldiers must be uneasy because of the bombings in Hillerod(sp) and Norrebro(sp). Mrs. Johansen read about it in De Frie Danske– The Free Danes, an illegal newspaper. Peter Nielson brings it to them, and the paper is burned after Mr. And Mrs. Johansen read it. But Annemarie hears them talking, of course. Because 10 year olds are a lot more aware of things than most people give them credit for.

Annemarie also knows what the resistance is, and we get a very brief child appropriate cliffs notes version. Essentially it boils down to “they hurt the Nazis in any way they can.”

Mrs. Rosen leaves to go find Ellen, making Annemarie promise to walk to school a different way. Annemarie does, but asks why it matters, when there are soldiers on every corner. Mrs. Rosen gives Annemarie and Kristi a useful piece of advice:

They will remember your faces. It is important to be one of the crowd, always, be one of the many. Be sure they never have a reason to remember your face.

And with that, Mrs. Rosen makes her exit.

Kristi reassures her mother that the soldier will remember her face, because she reminds him of his daughter.

Mrs. Johansen wonders aloud why, if that’s true, he doesn’t go back to her, like a good father.

From the 21st century as a non Jewish person I can sit here and say that he might not have wanted to be there any more than the Danes wanted him there. I recall reading somewhere that not all Germans joined the Nazis voluntarily.

The good people of Denmark likely don’t have the luxury of such thoughts, And I can’t say I blame them.

Annemarie, trying to distract her mother, asks for some food. Her mom says she can have bread. Annemarie asks for butter, but of course there is none. Mrs. Johansen reminds Annemarie that she should know and be used to this by now. Kirsti says she remembers cupcakes, despite the fact that there hasn’t been any sugar or butter for frosting 3 out of her 5 years.

When will there be cupcakes again momma?” Asks Kirsti.

When the war ends,” Mrs. Johannsen replies. “When the soldiers leave.”

This is where the chapter ends.

This chapter was very well written. It gives us a good idea of what life is like in Copenhagen from a ten year old’s perspective. War, for Annemarie, means:

1. Soldiers on corners with rifles

2. No butter for bread or sugar for cupcakes

3. No coffee

4. Bombings

5. Secret newspapers

There’s more, but we don’t learn about them till later and I hesitate to give out too many spoilers.

I’m always looking for writing advice, and I really got some here. This whole chapter is an example of why showing is better than telling.

When you think about it, this chapter, really, could be summed up in a paragraph:

There were soldiers on the street corners nowadays, in the year 1943. Ten year old Annemarie remembered a time before they were there, but she knew 5 year old Kirsti didn’t. The soldiers were very scary and intimidating, and they still couldn’t speak Dutch. Annemarie and Ellen were both very scared of the soldiers, but Kirsti was too young to know she should be. Ellen seemed more scared than Annemarie for some reason.

Annemarie was tall, lanky athletic girl with blonde hair. Her friend, Ellen, was stocky and had dark hair and dark eyes. Ellen was more reserved than her friend.

 

Did you fall asleep? Did you even finish reading all that? Probably not, because those paragraphs I wrote are boring. (They’re also not very well organized, but set that aside.)

I think, in this first chapter, Lois was trying to get across to his (her?) audience how scary the German soldiers were, and a little bit of background about the main characters and their time period.

But instead of saying, “the soldiers were scary,” over and over, Lois writes about the 2 protagonists just having a little harmless fun, and the German soldiers reacting negatively to it. The way the German soldiers react to the girls’ race is indicative of just how German occupation of Denmark is. There aren’t just soldiers on every corner “like lamp posts,” they’re there and they intimidate little girls.

Even after Annemarie is stopped by the soldiers, she doesn’t think to herself, these people are scary. Instead she sees their shiny boots, their cold eyes, their helmets. Likewise, Lois doesn’t write, “Ellen was scared.” Instead, “Ellen had a white face, and her eyes were wide. She stood motionless.”

Lois doesn’t beat us over the head, or even tell us straightforwardly, that these people are scared. The German soldiers are something to be afraid of. They are terrorizing the entire country.

Lois, by telling us a story about Annemarie and Ellen having a run in with the soldiers, isn’t just demonstrating how scary the Nazi solderis are, it’s also demonstrating that the war is not just an abstract thing that only adults are having to deal with. Lois is telling his (her?) readership that you, ten year old child reading this, would be affected by the presence of soldiers on every corner. You too would be affected by the food shortages.  You too would’ve been affected, one way or another, by what the Nazis were doing to the Jews.

 

*Seriously teachers, why? Why do you do this? The fast readers just get frustrated and angry having to sit there and wait for the slow readers to stumble through, while the slow readers get to be thoroughly embarrassed that you have brought their inability to read out loud to the attention of the rest of the class.

There have GOT to be better ways to do this.