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Novellas, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Ch 18

Afterword

How much of Annemarie's story is true? I know I will be asked that. Let me try to tell you, here, where fact ends and fiction begins.

Annemarie Johansen is a child of my imagination, though she grew there from the stories told to me by my friend Annelise Platt, to whom this book is dedicated, who was herself a child in Copenhagen during the long years of the German occupation.

I had always been fascinated and moved by Annelise's descriptions not only of the personal deprivation that her family and their neighbors suffered during those years, and the sacrifices they made, but even more by the greater picture she drew for me of the courage and integrity of the Danish people under the leadership of the king they loved so much, Christian X.

So I created little Annemarie and her family, set them down in a Copenhagen apartment on a street where I have walked myself, and imagined their life there against the real events of 1943.

Denmark surrendered to Germany in 1940, it is true; and it was true for the reasons that Papa explained to Annemarie: the country was small and undefended, with no army of any size. The people would have been destroyed had they tried to defend themselves against the huge German forces. So—surely with great sorrow—King Christian surrendered, and overnight the soldiers moved in. From then on, for five years, they occupied the country. Visible on almost every street corner, always armed and spit-shined, they controlled the newspapers, the rail system, the government, schools, and hospitals, and the day-to-day existence of the Danish people.

But they never controlled King Christian. It is true that he rode alone on his horse from the palace every morning, unguarded, and greeted his people; and though it seems so charming as to be a flight of author's fancy, the story that Papa told Annemarie, of the soldier who asked the Danish teenager, “Who is that man?”—that story is recorded in one of the documents that still remain from that time.

It is true, too, that in August 1943 the Danes sank their own entire navy in Copenhagen harbor as the Germans approached to take over the ships for their own use. My friend Annelise remembers it, and many who were children at the time would have been awakened, as little Kirsti was, by the explosions and the fiercely lighted sky as the ships burned.

On the New Year of the Jewish High Holidays in 1943, those who gathered to worship at the synagogue in Copenhagen, as the fictional Rosens did, were warned by the rabbi that they were to be taken and “relocated” by the Germans.

The rabbi knew because a high German official told the Danish government, which passed the information along to the leaders of the Jewish community. The name of that German was G. F. Duckwitz, and I hope that even today, so many years later, there are flowers on his grave, because he was a man of compassion and courage.

And so the Jews, all but a few who didn't believe the warning, fled the first raids. They fled into the arms of the Danes, who took them in, fed them, clothed them, hid them, and helped them along to safety in Sweden.

In the weeks following the Jewish New Year, almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark—nearly seven thousand people—was smuggled across the sea to Sweden.

The little hand-hemmed linen handkerchief that Annemarie carried to her uncle? Surely something made up by an author who wanted to create a heroine out of a fictional little girl?

No. The handkerchief as well is part of history. After the Nazis began to use police dogs to sniff out hidden passengers on the fishing boats, Swedish scientists worked swiftly to prevent such detection. They created a powerful powder composed of dried rabbit's blood and cocaine; the blood attracted the dogs, and when they sniffed at it, the cocaine numbed their noses and destroyed, temporarily, their sense of smell. Almost every boat captain used such a permeated handkerchief, and many lives were saved by the device.

The secret operations that saved the Jews were orchestrated by the Danish Resistance, which, like all Resistance movements, was composed mainly of the very young and very brave. Peter Neilsen, though he is fictional, represents those courageous and idealistic young people, so many of whom died at the hands of the enemy.

In reading of the Resistance leaders in Denmark, I came across an account of a young man named Kim Malthe-Bruun, who was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis when he was only twenty-one years old. I read his story as I had read many others, turning the pages, skimming here and there: this sabotage, that tactic, this capture, that escape. After a while even courage becomes routine to the reader.

Then, quite unprepared, I turned the page and faced a photograph of Kim Malthe-Bruun. He wore a turtleneck sweater, and his thick, light hair was windblown. His eyes looked out at me, unwavering on the page.

Seeing him there, so terribly young, broke my heart. But seeing the quiet determination in his boyish eyes made me determined, too, to tell his story, and that of all the Danish people who shared his dreams.

So I would like to end this with a paragraph written by that young man, in a letter to his mother, the night before he was put to death.

.

.

.

and I want you all to remember—that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of—something he can work and fight for.

Surely that gift—the gift of a world of human decency—is the one that all countries hunger for still. I hope that this story of Denmark, and its people, will remind us all that such a world is possible.



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Afterword

How much of Annemarie's story is true? I know I will be asked that. Let me try to tell you, here, where fact ends and fiction begins.

Annemarie Johansen is a child of my imagination, though she grew there from the stories told to me by my friend Annelise Platt, to whom this book is dedicated, who was herself a child in Copenhagen during the long years of the German occupation.

I had always been fascinated and moved by Annelise's descriptions not only of the personal deprivation that her family and their neighbors suffered during those years, and the sacrifices they made, but even more by the greater picture she drew for me of the courage and integrity of the Danish people under the leadership of the king they loved so much, Christian X.

So I created little Annemarie and her family, set them down in a Copenhagen apartment on a street where I have walked myself, and imagined their life there against the real events of 1943.

Denmark surrendered to Germany in 1940, it is true; and it was true for the reasons that Papa explained to Annemarie: the country was small and undefended, with no army of any size. The people would have been destroyed had they tried to defend themselves against the huge German forces. So—surely with great sorrow—King Christian surrendered, and overnight the soldiers moved in. From then on, for five years, they occupied the country. Visible on almost every street corner, always armed and spit-shined, they controlled the newspapers, the rail system, the government, schools, and hospitals, and the day-to-day existence of the Danish people.

But they never controlled King Christian. It is true that he rode alone on his horse from the palace every morning, unguarded, and greeted his people; and though it seems so charming as to be a flight of author's fancy, the story that Papa told Annemarie, of the soldier who asked the Danish teenager, “Who is that man?”—that story is recorded in one of the documents that still remain from that time.

It is true, too, that in August 1943 the Danes sank their own entire navy in Copenhagen harbor as the Germans approached to take over the ships for their own use. My friend Annelise remembers it, and many who were children at the time would have been awakened, as little Kirsti was, by the explosions and the fiercely lighted sky as the ships burned.

On the New Year of the Jewish High Holidays in 1943, those who gathered to worship at the synagogue in Copenhagen, as the fictional Rosens did, were warned by the rabbi that they were to be taken and “relocated” by the Germans.

The rabbi knew because a high German official told the Danish government, which passed the information along to the leaders of the Jewish community. The name of that German was G. F. Duckwitz, and I hope that even today, so many years later, there are flowers on his grave, because he was a man of compassion and courage.

And so the Jews, all but a few who didn't believe the warning, fled the first raids. They fled into the arms of the Danes, who took them in, fed them, clothed them, hid them, and helped them along to safety in Sweden.

In the weeks following the Jewish New Year, almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark—nearly seven thousand people—was smuggled across the sea to Sweden.

The little hand-hemmed linen handkerchief that Annemarie carried to her uncle? Surely something made up by an author who wanted to create a heroine out of a fictional little girl?

No. The handkerchief as well is part of history. After the Nazis began to use police dogs to sniff out hidden passengers on the fishing boats, Swedish scientists worked swiftly to prevent such detection. They created a powerful powder composed of dried rabbit's blood and cocaine; the blood attracted the dogs, and when they sniffed at it, the cocaine numbed their noses and destroyed, temporarily, their sense of smell. Almost every boat captain used such a permeated handkerchief, and many lives were saved by the device.

The secret operations that saved the Jews were orchestrated by the Danish Resistance, which, like all Resistance movements, was composed mainly of the very young and very brave. Peter Neilsen, though he is fictional, represents those courageous and idealistic young people, so many of whom died at the hands of the enemy.

In reading of the Resistance leaders in Denmark, I came across an account of a young man named Kim Malthe-Bruun, who was eventually captured and executed by the Nazis when he was only twenty-one years old. I read his story as I had read many others, turning the pages, skimming here and there: this sabotage, that tactic, this capture, that escape. After a while even courage becomes routine to the reader.

Then, quite unprepared, I turned the page and faced a photograph of Kim Malthe-Bruun. He wore a turtleneck sweater, and his thick, light hair was windblown. His eyes looked out at me, unwavering on the page.

Seeing him there, so terribly young, broke my heart. But seeing the quiet determination in his boyish eyes made me determined, too, to tell his story, and that of all the Danish people who shared his dreams.

So I would like to end this with a paragraph written by that young man, in a letter to his mother, the night before he was put to death.

.

.

.

and I want you all to remember—that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of—something he can work and fight for.

Surely that gift—the gift of a world of human decency—is the one that all countries hunger for still. I hope that this story of Denmark, and its people, will remind us all that such a world is possible.

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