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The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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What are six traits for Gitl in The Devil's Arithmetic?

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First, Gitl is selfless. Instead of focusing on her own needs after the Holocaust ends, she starts a rescue mission for girls in Israel.

Second, Gitl is motherly. From the moment she and Hannah arrive at the camp, she becomes a second mother to Hannah.

Third, she is self-sacrificing. Despite admonishing Hannah to eat her food and not give it away to the younger children, she gives her own food away.

Fourth, she is brave. She becomes part of an escape plot, and while the attempt to escape fails, it shows her tenacious spirit.

Fifth, she is loyal and makes the effort to keep Chaya's memory alive.

Lastly, Gitl has integrity. She shows, time and time again through this great novel, that she is committed to taking the right course of action, even if that means great sacrifice on her own part.

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Gitl is a girl who remains positive and encourages many of the other girls in the concentration camp. Her personality traits help her lead and strengthen the other girls to get through this traumatic time. She is optimistic, which gives everyone else hope, and she is also very wise—teaching positive messages and lessons about encouragement and resolve throughout the book.

Beyond those traits, she is a very positive person, she is extremely intelligent (which helps her greatly in her troubles during the novel), she is brave enough to withstand the torment of a concentration camp, and she is very compassionate. All of these character traits make her someone who is very kind and generous, helping others and encouraging them in the spite of their troubles.

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The character of Gitl undergoes several changes during the action of the novel. She is fundamentally a generous and maternal woman who exerts herself to care for others. After the villagers are rounded up and sent to the camp, she becomes very resourceful in figuring out how to survive their hardships. She masks her worries by being outspoken and sometimes sharp in her comments. At the same time, she can be humorous, insisting on laughing at their terrible situation. This humorous attitude is a sign of her basic optimism. She not only survives the camp and the war, but after reaching Israel she also, Hannah later learns, is able to use her generosity and resourcefulness to establish a rescue organization to help girls.

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Gitl is a wise, giving, compassionate, smart, brave, and determined character who gives many of the characters in The Devil’s Arithmetic hope, including Hannah.  Gitl’s wisdom is often combined with her humor.  As Gitl laughs at Hannah’s stomach grumbling at the concentration camp, she reveals that laughter is important for hope because hope is important for life.  Gitl is giving because she helps take care of others even in the confines of the camp by giving clothes and food when needed. Gitl specifically has compassion for some younger children when she gives them her own bread.  Gitl is smart to help devise an elaborate escape plot out of the camp.  Even thought the plot fails due to the sheer numbers of Nazi guards, Gitl’s intelligence must be noted.  Gitl’s participation in the plot as well as her survival in the aftermath also proves her bravery. Gitl is also determined not to allow the Holocaust to be forgotten.  Eventually, Gitl settles in Israel and runs an organization for those who survived the Nazi occupation.  Gitl is also determined to keep Chaya’s memory alive by recounting Chaya’s sacrifice for Rivka.

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