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 9 Summary

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Last Updated on April 26, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 649

As the people wait to be let into the synagogue, the rabbi, Shmuel, and another man speak with the Nazi leader. When the exchange is over, the rabbi tells the villagers that the Nazis are insisting that everyone accompany them in the trucks. Shmuel explains that the Jews are being resettled as part of a government policy. Several of the men begin to argue, and when their tone becomes belligerent, Shmuel grimly reminds them to be careful because the Nazis are all armed. Fayge plaintively asks, “What about our wedding?” Shmuel reassures her that they will be married, at least in God’s sight.

Hannah suddenly interjects, predicting that the Nazis will put them all into concentration camps and kill them in gas ovens. Fayge protests, telling Hannah that her words will call the Angel of Death down upon them. Gitl defends her niece, telling Fayge that Hannah is a child who has only recently recovered from a very serious illness and who under the best of conditions has “too much imagination and stories filling her head.” Rachel says that Hannah had just that morning told them a story called “Hansel and Gretel,” in which a witch throws children into an oven. Though Hannah insists that what she is saying now is no fairy tale, her words are dismissed as the capricious creation of a child’s fanciful mind.

Gitl then asks Fayge kindly why her mother, grandmother, and other relatives are not there at the village to greet them, and Shmuel reveals that, according to the Nazi colonel, they have all been sent for resettlement already. As the people argue about what they should do, the rabbi steps forward, counseling submission, as they “have no choice in the matter.” The Nazi leader assures the crowd that all their needs will be taken care of in their new homes and that “anyone who wants to work will be treated humanely.” He tells the Jews that they will be happy among their own people, but the badchan murmurs ominously, “The snake smiles but it shows no teeth.” Several in the crowd continue to voice their misgivings, but the rabbi is immovable. He says he has been told that the war is almost over and that the people will not be kept from their homes in Viosk for long. Again, the badchan mutters darkly, “How long is eternity?”

The people climb into the trucks in their family groups. Shmuel holds Fayge’s hand tightly, despite the disapproving looks of her father the rabbi. The trucks are packed so tightly that there is no room for anyone to sit down, and with the children perched high upon the men’s shoulders, they might have been “holidayers off on a trip.” To Hannah, however, there is no illusion of merriment; crushed as they are in the backs of the trucks, she feels they are “like cattle going to be slaughtered for the market.”

To calm the children, Gitl begins to sing as the trucks barrel down the winding road. At first she sings gentle children’s songs, but as the trip drags on, she begins a song with “wailing minor notes” which, to Hannah, sounds angry. The song is about a kidnapper who drags men off to the army. Soon Shmuel, then Yitzchak, and a number of the other men join in. Before long, it seems as if everyone is singing, even Fayge and her father.

Hannah is amazed at their obliviousness to the fate that is about to befall them. Memories of what she has learned about the Holocaust at school flood her mind, and she wonders if it is more frightening to know or not to know what lies ahead. Without even realizing it, Hannah finds herself singing with the others, and their voices drown out the sound of the tires on the road taking them farther and farther from home.

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