Introduction to The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil’s Arithmetic is a novel by Jane Yolen. Published in 1988, it was met with critical acclaim, receiving a nomination for the Nebula Award and winning the National Jewish Book Award. The novel is a work of Holocaust fiction and centers the experiences of Hannah, a young Jewish girl living in the United States during the 1980s. Hannah has a difficult time relating to her Jewish heritage, and she particularly questions her family members’ insistence on Holocaust remembrance. However, that all changes when Hannah is transported to the past—specifically, Nazi-controlled Poland.

While in the past, Hannah meets younger versions of her family members and learns more about her family history. Eventually, she is taken to a concentration camp, where she comes to understand the powerlessness felt by her Jewish ancestors. She connects with other people in the camp and matures into a more culturally aware individual. Upon returning to the present, Hannah has new insight into the idea of bravery and the emphasis her family places on memory: she begins engaging with them about their experiences from the Holocaust, finally recognizing the importance of preserving the memories of those who were lost.

A Brief Biography of Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen (born 1939) is a prolific American writer, editor, and speaker. She was born to a Jewish family, and her artistic inclinations were nurtured and encouraged throughout her childhood. Yolen’s father was a journalist and publicist, and her mother often wrote short stories in her free time. As she grew older, Yolen’s talents for music and storytelling became increasingly apparent, and she was an active member of numerous clubs and organizations throughout her school years. She was also deeply influenced by various religious and cultural institutions, most notably Quakerism, Catholicism, and her own Jewish heritage. Yolen attended Smith College before earning her Masters in Education from the University of Massachusetts. Over the next several decades, she worked as an author, editor, and publisher. Although Yolen’s literary contributions encompass a broad range of genres, styles, and topics, she is best known for her works targeted towards children and young adults, particularly The Devil’s Arithmetic, a Holocaust novella. Over the course of her career, Yolen has received numerous awards and nominations, including The National Jewish Book Award and the Nebula Award. The World Fantasy Convention honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 2009.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 13 of the novel, Hannah notices in the sky above her "a quartet of swallows ... twittering madly." In chapter 18, she notices them again and is momentarily transfixed by them. She...

Latest answer posted April 18, 2021, 11:22 am (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 17 of The Devil's Arithmetic, Gitl informs Hannah/Chaya that she and some of the others are planning to escape. She is told that Yitzchak and Shmuel are in on the plan and that they want...

Latest answer posted April 19, 2021, 5:18 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 2 of The Devil's Arithmetic, Hannah has just arrived at her grandparents' home for the Passover Seder. Her grandfather is watching the television and is very upset, gesturing...

Latest answer posted April 19, 2021, 3:35 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

The conflict in The Devil's Arithmetic comes from two different sources: Hannah herself and the Nazis in the flashback scenes. In the present day (the 1980s, when the book was written), Hannah is...

Latest answer posted April 19, 2021, 1:18 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In The Devil's Arithmetic, Eva is Hannah's great aunt. Specifically, she is the sister of her paternal grandfather, Grandpa Will. Aunt Eva is Hannah's favorite relative at the Seder, because she...

Latest answer posted April 18, 2021, 2:38 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

At the end of the last chapter of the book, Aunt Eva tells Hannah that she and Grandpa Will, along with many other concentration camp survivors, changed their names when they came to America...

Latest answer posted April 18, 2021, 11:43 am (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolan, Hannah/Chaya's uncle Shmuel participates in an escape attempt at the concentration camp. Unfortunately, most the men involved are caught by the guards. The...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 4:04 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

The setting of a story can refer to both its time and place. The Devil's Arithmetic is an interesting story in that these aspects of it change dramatically over the course of the story. The first...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 3:58 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

Blokova refers to a prisoner who has been tasked with managing other prisoners. Typically, blokovas were non-Jewish prisoners. This is a tenuous position to have. On one hand, it grants a small...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 5:53 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 16, the commandant's car enters the camp. Reuven, a little boy, is too startled to run away and hide. Hannah calls out for him to move before the commandant sees him, but Reuven does not...

Latest answer posted April 18, 2021, 12:04 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic, Fayge is engaged to Hannah/Chaya's uncle Shmuel. On their wedding day, however, the Nazis arrives and deport the Jews to concentration camps. Shmuel and...

Latest answer posted April 18, 2021, 5:20 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

The words "chosen for processing" are a euphemism for death in the concentration camp. In chapter 15, Hannah hears that there is going to be a "Choosing" in the camp. Not understanding the term,...

Latest answer posted April 19, 2021, 1:51 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 15 of The Devil's Arithmetic, Chaya/Hannah gets into the routine of life and work at the concentration camp. It is important to always be working, and Chaya and the other prisoners have...

Latest answer posted April 19, 2021, 6:51 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

The Devil's Arithmetic

In The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolan, the young Jewish American girl Hannah Stern travels back in time to the 1940s. She finds herself in the home of her aunt and uncle, Gitl and Shmuel, who are...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 3:39 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

When readers first meet Rivka in the concentration camp, she tries to reassure Hannah, Esther, and Shifre. She tells the others not to be afraid during the night because "any 'Choosing' is done...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 3:18 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In chapter 14, Hannah explains to Shifre and Rivka that whenever Commander Breuer comes to inspect the camp, all the children under fourteen years of age have to disappear. Children under fourteen...

Latest answer posted April 17, 2021, 11:24 am (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

Hannah’s travel in time and space to Poland in the 1940s is the vehicle for her learning about her family’s history, including numerous losses and hardships. Before she became Chaya and was...

Latest answer posted April 16, 2021, 8:42 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

At the beginning of the story, we learn that Eva is Hannah's favorite aunt. In fact, there's a strong affection and bond between Hannah and her aunt. As the story progresses, we learn that Aunt Eva...

Latest answer posted April 16, 2021, 6:02 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In Jane Yolen's novel The Devil's Arithmetic, the inmates of the concentration camp retain their links with Jewish folklore. Lilith is an important figure in the early literature of Judaism,...

Latest answer posted April 16, 2021, 7:56 pm (UTC)

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The Devil's Arithmetic

In The Devil's Arithmetic, Hannah Stern, a girl who is bored by stories of the Holocaust, is transported back into the midst of it. She finds herself in 1942 on the border between Poland and...

Latest answer posted April 16, 2021, 12:54 pm (UTC)

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Summary