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Number the Stars | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Number the Stars | Chapter 4 : It Will Be a Long Night | Summary



Ellen and Annemarie are playing paper dolls when Mrs. Johansen and Kirsti come home. Kirsti is very upset because her new shoes are made of fish skin. To comfort Kirsti, Ellen offers to take them home and blacken them with her father's ink if he allows it. As they speak, the subject of fireworks arises. Kirsti has never seen them, but she thinks she has because there were bombs on her birthday and their mother said the explosions were fireworks. In truth, those explosions were the Danes destroying their own navy so the ships and weapons aboard them could not be used by the Nazis.

On Thursday, it is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The Rosens leave for the synagogue. That afternoon, though, Mrs. Rosen appears and after a hushed conversation with Mrs. Johansen, Mrs. Johansen tells Annemarie and Kirsti that Ellen will be staying with them for a few days.

Ellen has dinner with them, and after Kirsti goes to bed, Mr. Johansen tells Annemarie that "the Nazis have taken the synagogue lists of all the Jews. Where they live, what their names are." He tells her they "plan to take them away. And we have been told they may come tonight." The Rosens have left, and Ellen will stay with them for a few days. "If anyone comes, even soldiers, you will be sisters." He sends the girls to bed and tells them, "Tonight I am proud to have three daughters again."


Rosh Hashanah is celebrated as the first and second days of the Jewish New Year. Like Shabbat, or the day of the Sabbath, Jews attend the synagogue and have a celebratory meal, during which kiddush (a prayer over wine or grape juice) is said. Traditionally, Jews on this special day eat foods with symbolic value. The Nazis would have known the significance of the date they'd chosen for gathering the Jews to transport them. They would also realize that the sunset of the next day was Shabbat. Most Jews would attend the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and for Shabbat. However, the news of the Nazis' plans was shared with the rabbi. This aspect of the novel is historically accurate. While the Rosens were not an actual family, the events they are experiencing in the novel—the Nazis' plan to gather and transport them on this high holiday and the rabbi's knowledge and sharing of this information with the community—is factually correct.

That the Johansens hide Ellen is also drawn from history. Many Danish citizens acted to save Danish Jews. This is, in part, an aspect of their growing resistance against the Nazi occupation.

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