Study Guide

Number the Stars Prejudice

By Lois Lowry


Ellen made a face. "No," she said, laughing. "You know I can't beat you—my legs aren't as long. Can't we just walk, like civilized people?" She was a stocky ten-year-old, unlike lanky Annemarie. (1.2)

Number the Stars starts by emphasizing the physical differences between our two main characters—and that makes sense, right? After all, the Nazis twisted differences in identity into punishable crimes, and Number the Stars shows us how subjective these prejudices truly are. Sure, these girls look different, but in all the ways that count, they have a ton in common.

"If he has such a pretty little girl, why doesn't he go back to her like a good father?" Mrs. Johansen murmured, stroking Kirsti's cheek. "Why doesn't he go back to his own country?" (1.60)

The Nazis distinguish people based on their race or religion, but Mrs. Johansen is distinguishing based on nationality. To Annemarie's mom, the difference between Jewish and Christian doesn't matter—they're all Danes.

In her mind, Annemarie had pictured Norway as she remembered it from the map at school, up above Denmark. Norway was pink on the school map. She imagined the pink strip of Norway crushed by a fist. (2.34)

The Nazis are so prejudiced and cruel that it's hard to see them as real people—instead, Annemarie just pictures them as one giant fist. Yikes.

"It is their way of tormenting. For some reason, they want to torment Jewish people. It has happened in the other countries. They have taken their time here—have let us relax a little. But now it seems to be starting." (3.42)

This is prejudice at its worst—the beginnings of genocide.

"This morning, at the synagogue, the rabbi told his congregation that the Nazis have taken the synagogue lists of all the Jews. Where they live, what their names are. […]"

"Why? Why did they want those names?"

"They plan to arrest all the Danish Jews. They plan to take them away. And we have been told that they may come tonight." (4.64-66)

Scary, right? Based on a list of which people believe what, the Nazis are deciding whom to persecute and whom to leave alone. All the people who believe in one religion are in trouble and all those who don't are fine… for now. Doesn't get any more prejudiced than that.

Ellen's hands flew to her neck. Desperately she began trying to unhook the tiny clasp. Outside the bedroom door, the harsh voices and heavy footsteps continued.

"I can't get it open!" Ellen said frantically. "I never take it off—I can't even remember how to open it!" (5.42-43)

This passage really makes us reach for the tissues. This poor girl is frantic, placed in a nightmarish situation. Literally—we've all had that haunting dream where we just can't do whatever it is we needed to do, and Ellen is experiencing the reality. And it's all because she's Jewish.

"Stop crying, you idiot girl," he said harshly. "Your stupid mother has sent your uncle a handkerchief. In Germany the women have better things to do. They don't stay at home hemming handkerchiefs for their men." (15.41)

Prejudiced + misogynistic = nasty.

"Go on," the soldier said. He dropped the cheese and the napkin back into her basket. "Go on to your uncle and tell him that the German dogs enjoyed his bread." (15.44)

National identity is so important that even the dogs are singled out as being German rather than Danish. This statement is also meant as an insult to the Danes: the Nazis' dogs are treated better than the Danes themselves. Ugh.