The Devil's Arithmetic Chapter 15 Summary
by Jane Yolen

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Chapter 15 Summary

The Commandant arrives the next morning after roll call, and the women immediately begin making “a penetrating clucking noise” with their tongues. Hannah watches in amazement as children come scrambling from all directions, shedding their clothes and diving into the midden. Catching sight of a forgotten baby cradled in a washtub, Hannah instinctively runs to grab the child and flees with it into the garbage pile. When the all-clear signal finally comes, the child’s mother scolds Hannah for not taking her child’s clothes off before submerging her in the midden, but Rivka reminds her that Hannah has saved the baby’s life. Chastened, the mother goes to organize some water so both Hannah and the baby can be cleaned up.

As she tries to get the stench of the midden out of her dress that night with a meager cup of liquid, Hannah understands why the children had all left their clothes behind when diving into the dump. Hannah had been worried that the scattered clothing would alert the soldiers, but apparently the Nazis know exactly what is going on and choose to look the other way, making the whole procedure nothing more than “an awful game.”

The days become routine, following an unchangeable pattern of “roll call, breakfast, work, lunch, work, supper, work.” Hannah and Shifre are assigned to the kitchen with Rivka; they find their jobs to be repetitive but not without reward. Sometimes the girls are able to get a bit of extra food for themselves while scraping the pots and pans. Hannah later learns that Rivka has bribed the blokova, or woman in charge, to secure for them these coveted positions. When she tries to thank her friend, Rivka says gently, “Keep your thanks. And hand it on.”

Hannah does indeed try to pass on the kindness shown to her by saving some of her food for little Reuven each day. Gitl, however, scolds her, telling Hannah that she also is a growing girl and must take care of herself. Later, Hannah sees Gitl giving Reuven some of her own portion.

(The entire section is 658 words.)