Get ready for a shout-out, Bible-style. The phrase "number the stars" comes from Psalm 147:4, when a guy named Peter reads these words out loud to a bunch of people who are in some major danger:
O praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing psalms to our God!
How pleasant to praise him!
The Lord is rebuilding Jerusalem;
he gathers in the scattered sons of Israel.
It is he who heals the broken in spirit
and binds up their wounds,
he who numbers the stars one by one… (10.34)
The God described here sees everything that's happening (he can count the stars, for crying out loud!)—and that means he sees what's happening to you, too. According to this psalm, you're not alone in the world. Pretty comforting, right?
Quoting the Bible is never a throwaway, so we have to expect that it holds some hefty meaning when the shout-out is right there in the title. Let's take a closer look.
The Nazis treat the Jews as the ultimate Other, so it's important that the psalm that Peter reads is one from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), a text read by both Jews and Christians. If Peter had read a passage from the New Testament, it would have emphasized the differences between Christians and Jews. Instead, both the Jews and the Christians present can find comfort in the words—this psalm holds meaning for all of them.
For one of the listeners, though, the psalm seems like it's too much to take. Because of how difficult things are, Annemarie has a hard time believing in the goodness of this God:
The words were unfamiliar to her, and she tried to listen, tried to understand, tried to forget the war and the Nazis, tried not to cry, tried to be brave. The night breeze moved the dark curtains at the open windows. Outside, she knew, the sky was speckled with stars. How could anyone number them one by one, as the psalm said? There were too many. The sky was too big. (10.36)
While it's tough to put ourselves in Annemarie's shoes, we can definitely understand why she's feeling so hopeless. After all, what if we think of the stars in the sky as a symbol for the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust? It's hard to imagine any God being able to "number them one by one," keeping them all safe. And especially because of all the lives that were lost, it can be tough to keep the faith.
Instead of talking about all the Jews who suffered during World War II, Number the Stars zooms in on just a few people, both Jews and Christians, and shows how their lives were affected.
Think about it this way: it's kind of like looking just at the Little Dipper instead of the entire galaxy. While the God described in the psalm might be able to keep track of that entire galaxy, people can only see a limited amount. So Annemarie and her family can't save all the Jews in Copenhagen, but they can save a few—and for these few, they are able to "number them one by one."