In The Devil's Arithmetic, we meet Hannah. Hannah is a young Jewish girl living in the 1980s. She is going to a Passover Seder at her grandparents' house. Hannah isn't thrilled about going to the dinner. She gets embarrassed by all the stories her grandfather tells. The only good thing about going is that she will get to spend time with her aunt, who seems to be the only one she connects with. Hannah's grandfather is very passionate about his memories of the Holocaust and wants to pass the memories onto his grandchildren. He tries to impress upon his granddaughter how important it is for the memory to be kept alive. Hannah, on the other hand, doesn't want to remember anything. She doesn't see the point in remembering the past. As the night progresses, Hannah is bored and doesn't see the point of her having to stay at the dinner. That all changes when Hannah is transported back to 1942 Poland.
The theme of remembering the past is central to the book. Grandpa Will wants his grandchildren to realize the horrible things that happened to the Jewish people during the Nazi invasion. Hannah is given the chance to live as a young Jewish girl during her grandfather's time, and witness the concentration camps for herself. The more time that Hannah spends there, the more she realizes that she can no longer remember her past life.
But as the scissors snip-snapped through her hair and the razor shaved the rest, she realized with a sudden awful panic that she could no longer recall anything from the past. I cannot remember, she whispered to herself.
Hannah learned that remembering the past helps keep the present alive. Hannah learned that remembering all the people that were lost was the only way to keep them alive today.
Hannah nodded and took her aunt's fingers from her lips. She said, in a voice much louder than she had intended, so loud that the entire table hushed at its sound, "I remember. Oh, I remember."
The book's main agenda is to make us realize that we cannot forget the past. We cannot forget the people who mattered and the people who so tragically lost their lives to evil. By remembering the past we are able to overcome that darkness with the light of these people.