The Devil's Arithmetic Chapter 18 Summary
by Jane Yolen

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Chapter 18 Summary

The sky is a brilliant blue and the birds are singing merrily, which creates a chillingly incongruous backdrop to roll call the next morning. The Commandant is in attendance, and six men in chains are lined up before him. One of them is Shmuel and another is the violinist in the klezmer band; all the men have been beaten badly, but Hannah notes immediately that Yitzchak is not among them.

The Commandant announces to the assembly that the six men have tried to escape, and he emphasizes the foolishness of their undertaking: the camp is located in a desolate area, and they would have had nowhere to go. The Commandant laments that he has been too lenient on the prisoners. He has been told repeatedly that he should have exterminated them all upon their arrival as part of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem.”

An undercurrent of moaning arises from the assembly as the six shackled men are moved in front of a wall. The Commandant calls for silence, telling the people ominously that if they are quiet they will be allowed to watch. The prisoners comply—not because they want to watch but because they want to bear witness and because they have no other choice.

The six men are left standing or sitting in front of the wall, facing the assembly. The violinist raises his voice in defiant prayer, and all the other men except Shmuel join him. Shmuel looks over the crowd with “a strange smile” on his face until at last he sees the person he is seeking, and he calls out, “Fayge!” With a “loud wail,” Fayge pushes her way forward and falls at Shmuel’s feet. Looking up at her beloved, she declares, “The sky is our canopy.” As Shmuel bends to kiss her head, the guns roar, and the grisly wedding is consummated.

Ten Kommandos come out of the cave of death to take away the bodies of the executed. One of them, who is “hardly more than a boy,” picks Fayge up in his arms and carries her away almost tenderly; Rivka whispers “to no one in particular” that the boy is her brother, Wolfe. The blokova comes forward and frantically harasses the women to get to work; her hand is wrapped in bandages, stained with fresh blood.

As they hurry to the kitchen, Hannah shares with Gitl her observation that Yitzchak had not been among the prisoners executed, bestowing on her “a measure of hope.” Hannah envisions Yitzchak racing into the dark forest to freedom and “smile[s] with the memory.”

Later that day, when she is at the water pump with Rivka, Shifre, and Esther, an image from...

(The entire section is 690 words.)