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Number the Stars | Study Guide

Lois Lowry

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Number the Stars | Symbols


Star of David

Within the novel the Star of David (Magen David) is a symbol both of Judaism and of keeping faith. The Magen David, a double triangle in shape, represents the connection between the internal and external dimensions of God, Torah, and Israel. Jews connect to God by studying the Torah. The Torah is sometimes used to refer to the five books of Moses, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It can also refer to all the books included in the part of the Christian Bible, the Old Testament, which Jews call the Tanakh, the Written Torah. The Magen David is symbolic of faith for Jews much as the cross is for Christians.

In Number the Stars Ellen wears her Star of David necklace, which marks her as a Jew. When the soldiers appear in the early hours of the morning seeking the Rosens, Annemarie rips the necklace from Ellen's throat to hide it. If she had not done so, Ellen would likely have been deported and separated from her parents. The soldiers were taking and "relocating" Jews. The modern reader will understand this means those taken were sent to camps to be worked as slaves or murdered. Annemarie's bravery is apparent in this act. The Magen David represents the Jewishness that had to be hidden in order for Ellen to survive.

Ellen also misses the symbol of her faith and the special gift her father had given her. When she is with Annemarie at Uncle Henrik's house, Ellen touches her neck and asks, "Where is my necklace?" and "What did you do with it?" Annemarie assures her that she had hidden it to keep it safe—much as the reader will realize the Resistance is doing with the Jews themselves. At the end of the book, after the war has ended, Annemarie retrieves the hidden necklace and asks her father to fix the broken clasp. When he says he can, he adds, "When the Rosens come home, you can give it back to Ellen." Annemarie says, "Until then, I will wear it myself." Wearing a symbol of Judaism was less dangerous after the war, and Annemarie's affection for Ellen is evident not only in the way she kept the necklace safe but in her willingness to wear it. Annemarie kept the necklace and her friend safe, as many of the Danes did for the Danish Jews.


The drug-laden handkerchief, a historically accurate item, looks harmless. In the novel, it is a simple white cloth treated with a mixture of chemicals—including cocaine—to both attract and also temporarily numb the dogs' noses. It looks innocent and harmless and can be hidden in plain sight. However, it was a weapon used to save thousands of Jews.

Symbolically, the handkerchief is also a representative of the cleverness of the Resistance. They hid the Jews in plain sight (as with Ellen), and they resisted the Nazi regime and ideology nonviolently. Their regent, King Christian X, ordered the destruction of Danish navy ships in the Copenhagen harbor. No one was injured, but neither were the Nazis able to commandeer the weapons on those ships.


Today, the swastika is seen as a symbol of racism, anti-Semitism, and hate due to its use by the Nazis before and during World War II. Prior to its association with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, it was used as a symbol meaning good fortune. It originated from the Sanskrit word svastika, and is still seen on temples in India and Indonesia. The symbol was also used in both Christian and Byzantine art. Its appropriation by the Nazis was sparked by the archaeological discovery of the symbol at the site of Troy (in modern Turkey) by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. He suggested it was a "religious symbol of our [Aryan] remote ancestors." In 1920 the Nazi party, with its belief that Germans were the descendants of an Aryan "master race," chose the swastika as their party's symbol.

In Number the Stars the swastika is referenced when the Hirsch family disappears. Annemarie tells her mother the sign on the Hirsch shop is in German, and when she is questioned further, she says, "Mama, it had a swastika on it." While it is not referenced repeatedly in the novel, it was such a part of the history of the novel's setting, the symbolism is important for the reader to note.

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