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The Yellow Star Transcript
Hans Christian Andersen’s first book of fairy tales was published today in 1835, and Andersen has since become a Danish national hero. But there is another Danish hero whom many of us haven’t heard about – the Dane’s beloved King Christian X, who rode, without bodyguards, on horseback through the streets of Copenhagen every morning. It was King Christian who defied the Nazis when they occupied Denmark during World War II. The Germans raised their flag over the palace, but King Christian had it removed. The Germans replaced it with another swastika, and threatened to shoot the next person who took it down. King Christian is reported to have said, well, “then be prepared to shoot the king, for I will be that person.” The Germans let the matter, and the Danish flag, be.
And when the Germans ordered all the Jewish citizens of Denmark to wear a yellow star on their clothing, King Christian, who regarded all Danes as Danes, regardless of their religion, is said to have had his tailor make a yellow star for him to wear on his coat during his morning rides. Soon, all Danes began to wear the yellow star out of solidarity for their Jewish fellow-citizens. And when the Germans began arresting Jews anyway, other Danes used their small fishing boats to smuggle thousands out of them out of the country to neutral Sweden.
These legends are retold, movingly, in Carmen Agra Deedy’s picture book, The Yellow Star, with illustrations by Henri Sorensen from Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta. Ms. Deed’s text is sparse and sure, burnished like wood on a well-worn, cherished family table. “In the country of Denmark,” she tells us in her opening and closing lines, “there were only Danes.” And Henri Sorensen’s painterly illustrations are both compelling and dignified – in keeping with their serious subject. They’re fragments of that moment forever caught on canvas – austere, poetic, pensive.
In her afterword, Ms. Deedy tells us that, in the historical records she researched, she was not able to confirm the specific facts of the legend of the yellow star, though she heard the story many times from ordinary Danes. These things have a life of their own, off the written page, and in the memory of a people, the kind of memory that creates and keeps alive both fairy tales and legends – the stores that speak to our deepest hopes and our noblest actions.