The Devil's Arithmetic

BOOK: The Devil's Arithmetic
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It began like any other Passover Seder. . . .

Hannah moved toward the front door. She certainly didn't believe that the prophet Elijah would come through the apartment door any more than she believed Darth Vader or Robin Hood would. No one believed those superstitions anymore.

Glancing over her shoulder, Hannah saw her family were all watching her intently. Aaron bounced up and down on his chair.

“Open it, Hannah!” he called out loudly. “Open it for Elijah!”

Flinging the door open wide, she whispered, “Ready or not, here I c . . .”

Outside, where there should have been a long, windowless hall with dark green numbered doors leading into other apartments, there was a greening field and a lowering sky. The moon hung ripely between two heavy gray clouds. And across the field marched a shadowy figure. He had a shapeless cap on his head, a hoe over his shoulder, and he was singing. . . .

“Yolen does a fine job of illustrating the importance of remembering.”

School Library Journal
, starred review


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The Circlemaker
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The Devil in Vienna
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Hans Peter Richter

Grace in the Wilderness
Aranka Siegal

Hide and Seek
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I Am a Star
Inge Auerbacher

Letters from Rifka
Karen Hesse

The Night Journey
Kathryn Lasky

A Pocket Full of Seeds
Marilyn Sachs

To Cross a Line
Karen Ray

To Life
Ruth Minsky Sender

Upon the Head of the Goat
Aranka Siegal

The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen


Published by the Penguin Group

Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood. Victoria. Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd. 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182–190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin Inc., 1988

Published in Puffin Books 1990

Copyright © Jane Yolen, 1988

All rights reserved


Yolen, Jane.    The devil's arithmetic / by Jane Yolen.    p.  cm.

Summary: Hannah resents the traditions of her Jewish heritage until time travel places her in the middle of a small Jewish village in Nazi-occupied Poland.

ISBN: 9781101664308

[1. Jews—Fiction.    2. Concentration camps—Fiction.    3. Time travel—Fiction.]    I. Title.

[PZ7.Y78De 1990]    [Fic]—dc20    90-33007

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


To my Yolen grandparents, who brought their family over in the early 1900s, second class, not steerage, and to my Berlin grandparents, who came over close to that same time and settled in Virginia. We were the lucky ones. This book is a memorial for those who were not.

And for my daughter, Heidi Elisabet Stemple, whose Hebrew name is Chaya—pronounced with the guttural
which means

And with special thanks to Barbara Goldin and Deborah Brodie, who were able to ask questions of survivors that I was unable to ask and pass those devastating answers on to me.

Table of Contents























as she climbed into the car. She was flushed with April sun and her mouth felt sticky from jelly beans and Easter candy.

“You know it's Passover,” her mother said, sighing, in a voice deliberately low. She kept smiling so that no one at Rosemary's house would know they were arguing.

“I didn't know.”

“Of course you knew.”

“Then I forgot.” Hannah could hear her voice beginning to rise into a whine she couldn't control.

“How could you forget, Hannah. Especially this year, when Passover falls on the same day as Easter? We've talked and talked about it. First we've got to go home and change. Then we're going to Grandpa Will and Grandma Belle's for the first night's Seder.”

“I'm not hungry. I ate a big dinner at Rosemary's.
And I don't want to go to the Seder. Aaron and I will be the only kids there and everyone will say how much we've grown even though they just saw us last month. And, besides, the punch lines of all the jokes will be in Yiddish.” When her mother didn't answer at once, Hannah slumped down in the seat. Sometimes she wished her mother would yell at her the way Rosemary's mother did, but she knew her mother would only give her one of those slow, low, reasonable lectures that were so annoying.

“Passover isn't about eating, Hannah,” her mother began at last, sighing and pushing her fingers up through her silver-streaked hair.

“You could have fooled me,” Hannah muttered.

“It's about remembering.”

Jewish holidays are about remembering, Mama. I'm tired of remembering.”

“Tired or not, you're going with us, young lady. Grandpa Will and Grandma Belle are expecting the entire family, and that means you, too. You have to remember how much family means to them. Grandma lost both her parents to the Nazis before she and her brother managed to escape. And Grandpa . . .”

“I remember. I remember . . . ,” Hannah whispered.

“. . . Will lost everyone but your Aunt Eva. A family of eight all but wiped out.” She sighed again but Hannah suspected there was little sympathy in that sigh. It was more like punctuation. Instead of putting periods at the ends of sentences, her mother sighed.

Hannah rolled her eyes up and slipped farther down
in the seat. Her stomach felt heavy, as if the argument lay there like unleavened bread.

It wasn't a particularly long trip from New Rochelle to the Bronx, where her grandparents lived, but the car was overheated as usual and Aaron complained the entire way.

“I'm sick,” he said loudly. Whenever he was unhappy or scared, his voice got louder. If he was really sick, he could hardly be heard. “I'm going to throw up. We have to go back.”

As her mother turned around and glared at them from the front seat, Hannah patted Aaron's hand and whispered, “Don't be such a baby, Ron-ron. The Four Questions aren't that hard.”

“I can't remember all four questions.” Aaron almost shouted the last word.

“You don't have to remember them.” Hannah's patience was wearing thin. “You're supposed to
them. From the Haggadah.”

“What if I can't read it right?”

Hannah began to sigh, caught herself, and turned it into a cough. “You've been reading right since you were three, Mr. Smarty.” She cuffed him lightly on the side of the head and he cried out.

“Hannah!” her father called back in warning.

“Look,” she said quickly to Aaron to shut him up, “it doesn't matter if you make a mistake, Ron-ron, but if you do, I'll be right there next to you. I'll whisper it into your ear just like they do in plays when someone forgets a line.”

“Like Mrs. Grahame had to do when you forgot . . .”

“Just like that.”



She gave him a funny look and then pounced on him, tickling him under the arms and over his belly. When he tried to escape by turning his back on her, she got him again from behind. His laughter rose higher and higher until he almost
throw up.

BOOK: The Devil's Arithmetic
12.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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