The Devil's Arithmetic Chapter 14 Summary
by Jane Yolen

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Chapter 14 Summary

That evening, Hannah, Esther, and Shifre meet with Rivka, who assures them that they have little to fear in the night and that in their terrifying new environment, if they are alive “now, this minute, it is enough.” Rivka has been in the camp for a year, and her only surviving family member is her brother Wolfe, who, forced to do work that is horrid beyond belief, is a “Sonderdommando, one of the walking dead.”

Rivka says that a “brutal arithmetic” prevails within the camp. The Angel of Death is all-powerful, but he can be eluded if an individual follows certain rules. Rivka shows the girls the number tattooed on her arm, J18202. She says:

J because I am... a Jew... 1... because I am alone... 8 is for my family because there were eight of us... 2 because that is all that are left now, me and Wolfe, who believes himself to be a 0... and when... this is over, we will be 2 again... God will allow it.

Hannah protests darkly that God is not there, saying that the camp is the Devil’s place, but Rivka insists that God is there too and that their job is to stay alive.

Rivka knows what they must do to achieve this. She begins by explaining the first rule of survival, which is the importance of knowing their numbers and those of others. The girls must also learn what the numbers mean. They must never stand next to someone with a G in her number because that person is a Greek. Greek Jews do not understand Yiddish or German and so cannot react quickly enough to commands; they are more likely to be chosen for extermination because of this, as is anyone unlucky enough to be associated with them. Conversely, those whose numbers are lower have been at the camp for a comparatively long time, and thus are familiar with the rules of survival. They are likely to know how to organize, or secure necessities for the prisoners, such as shoes, sweaters, and medical supplies.

Another particularly difficult thing the girls will have to learn if they want to stay alive is to “let people go” who have given up on life. In trying to save someone who has chosen not to endure any longer, one stands a very great chance of losing her own life as well. The prisoners must never go near the large wooden fence with “a black handleless door” which lies at one end of the compound. Beyond the door is the “cave of death,” and those who pass through will never return. A final rule that must be learned is the midden, or garbage dump. Children under fourteen...

(The entire section is 677 words.)