A cliffhanger is an ending that creates further suspense. In the case of The Devil’s Arithmetic, there are quite a few cliffhangers at the ends of chapters.
The first real cliffhanger is at the end of chapter three when Hannah opens the door and, instead of seeing the hall, sees a field with a strange figure singing about death. No explanation is given until we get to the next chapter.
The next cliffhanger is at the end of chapter eight when the Nazis pull up to the synagogue with large trucks and demand the Jewish people file inside to be relocated. This is a scary scene (and a stark contrast to the wedding that was supposed to be taking place). If the reader is familiar with the Holocaust, the reader knows what kind of place the Jews are going: a concentration camp. Again, the suspense rises.
A further cliffhanger is at the end of chapter sixteen, which is a story about the earth “swallowing” the black heart of the Nazi beast. The suspense rises here because it makes the reader wonder how this can possibly happen with all of the hopelessness and helplessness that surrounds the Jewish people in the concentration camps.
The final cliffhanger is the most important one at the end of chapter eighteen. Hannah takes off Rivka’s scarf and declares the following:
Run for your life, Rivka ... for your future ... run ... and remember.
Hannah then walks bravely into the gas chamber in Rivka’s place. The tension rises for a final time here as the reader realizes Hannah/Chaya is walking to her death. The reader then wonders what will happen to the modern-day Hannah.