illustration of main character Hannah opening a door which leads to a barbed wire fence

The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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Chapter 13 Summary

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In the morning, Hannah awakens to the sound of a “bellowing horn.” She sits up, hits her head on the shelf above her, and suddenly remembers “the trip in the cattle car . . . the tattoo, the shorn hair.” Looking around, Hannah sees the other women emerging sleepily from their bunks in the stark barracks.

The door to the building opens and a guard shouts at the prisoners that if they want to eat, they must get in line quickly. Hannah stands and sees Gitl bending over one of the lowest shelves. Something in Gitl’s demeanor draws Hannah over to her; curled on the shelf before them lies little Tzipporah, with her finger still in her mouth, dead. When Hannah, not fully realizing that the child is gone, reaches in to touch her, Gitl orders her not to and slaps her; she then embraces Hannah with such force that Hannah gasps. Gitl sobs brokenly that she will have to tell Yitzchak that his daughter is dead, but she does not know how she will be able to do it.

Gitl’s eyes are dry by the time she and Hannah leave the barracks. The others are already lined up to eat, even Fayge, who is being helped by one of the women from her village. At the first table they come to, a young girl with deep-set brown eyes gives them each a metal bowl. The girl patiently warns them that they must take special care of their bowls, which will be used for eating, drinking, and washing; if they are lost, they cannot be replaced. The girl, who looks no more than ten years old, introduces herself as Rivka and tells Hannah and a few others that if they will meet her after supper, she will tell them how to survive in this terrible place. Hannah nods and receives her ration of watery potato soup and a small slab of dark bread. Famished, she consumes her meager portion in an instant.

After the meal, the three-fingered woman lines the newcomers up with a liberal dose of slaps, pushes, and verbal abuse. She addresses them briefly, and then a man in a uniform adorned with medals takes her place in front of the group. After surveying the prisoners for a long while, the officer states succinctly:

You will have discipline . . . you will work hard . . . you will never answer back, complain, or question . . . you will do it, or you will die.

The three-fingered woman then begins to tell the prisoners what they can expect each day. As she speaks on and on, Hannah’s attention begins to wander; she feels as if there is something she needs to remember, but the memory escapes her. Without moving her head, she sees Gitl standing beside her, and Fayge farther on down the line. She recalls having seen the men scrambling to get in line behind them and wonders if Shmuel is there, and Yitzchak, and the rabbi. Softly, so that the three-fingered woman cannot hear, Hannah whispers Gitl’s name, and Gitl touches her hand, whispering back, “Chaya.” Gitl’s response is so vehement that it sounds like a promise, or perhaps a command.

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Chapter 12 Summary


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