The Devil’s
By Jane Yolen
Viking Penguin, Inc. Publishers 1988
Initially, this story begins in present day
New Rochelle, New York. A modern
family, driving a modern car, travel to a
family gathering.
Unexpectedly, the main character is
transported to 1942 Poland. She finds
herself in the middle of Nazi domination
and unthinkable horrors.
Main Characters
Hannah – Present day Hannah is twelve years old living in New
Rochelle, New York with her parents. She suddenly finds herself
transported back to 1942 Nazi occupied Poland.
Chaya – As Hannah awakens to find herself in her new strange
surroundings, those around her are calling her Chaya, which means
‘Life’. She discovers that her 1942 parents were ill and passed away
and she has been left with her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Shmuel.
Shmuel – As the fun loving brother of Gitl, Chaya’s Uncle Shmuel
loves to sing, works hard, and is engaged to marry Fayge, the daughter
of Reb Boruch.
Gitl – Tenacious, head-strong, and proud, Chaya’s aunt stands with
her and helps her to survive many perilous situations in the camps.
Main Characters cont.
Fayge – Others look at Fayge as though she were a movie
star. As the betrothed of Shmuel, she is thought to be beautiful.
Rivka – A very mature wise 10 year old girl who has discovered
ways of surviving camp life. She helps the others learn her
Wolfe – As Rivka’s only remaining family member, Wolfe works
as a Sonderkommando. He is responsible for transporting dead
bodies to the crematoriums.
Commandant Bruer – As the commander of Chaya’s
concentration camp, He is the one who does the “choosing.”
Supporting Characters
Grandpa Will – As the present day grandfather of Hannah, Grandpa
Will is always ranting about the war, the past, and life in the camps.
Aunt Eva – This kind loving woman is Hannah’s present day Aunt
and Will’s brother.
Shifre, Yente, Esther, Rachel – These are all friends that Chaya
meets at the wedding of Shmuel and Fayge in 1942 Poland.
Yitzhak the Butcher – A local butcher in 1942 Poland who loves Gitl
and wishes to marry her. He is the father of Tzipporah and Reuven.
Tzipporah and Reuven – Children of Yitzhak the butcher.
The Devil's Arithmetic is a fictional account of a thirteen
year old Jewish girl’s journey back in time to Nazi occupied
Poland. Present day Hannah Stern dreads Passover and the
traditions her family “forces” her to remember each year.
When asked to open the door for the prophet Elijah, she is
transported back in time to 1942 where she becomes aware
of the atrocities which lie ahead. Once in her new past, she
is called Chaya, which means, life. She becomes acquainted
with her Aunt Gitl and Uncle Shmuel with whom she lives.
While traveling down the road to Shmuel’s wedding, trucks
block their way. Chaya then realizes what year it is, and to
whom those trucks belong. She struggles through life in a
concentration camp and suffers all the losses she
remembered her present day family talking about.
Jewish Tradition
Nazi Occupation
Concentration Camp Life
Poland History – 1939-1945
Space and Time Travel
The National Jewish Book Award
The Sydney Taylor Award
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award
Nebula Honor Book
1992 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
Florida Children's Book Award nomination in '91-92
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award
It was made into a movie for the Showtime TV
It won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Children's
The film also won "The Wilbur Award."
Jane Yolen – “Born and raised in New York City, Jane Yolen now lives
in Hatfield, Massachusetts. She attended Smith College and received her
master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts. The
distinguished author of more than 170 books, Jane Yolen is a person of many
talents. When she is not writing, Yolen composes songs, is a professional
storyteller on the stage, and is the busy wife of a university professor, the
mother of three grown children, and a grandmother.”
Jane Yolen – “She needs little introduction to readers of children's
literature. The award-winning author of more than 200 books for children,
young adults, and adults, Jane moves gracefully from poetry, folktales, and
songs to fantasy and science fiction. She is also a storyteller in the oral
tradition, preferring to improvise on the old tales and receiving requests from
other storytellers to add her work to their repertoire. Newsweek called Jane
Yolen "the Hans Christian Andersen of America" and The New York Times
labeled her "a modern equivalent of Aesop." Her books have been translated
into fourteen languages.”
History of The Devil’s Arithmetic
“I had thought about doing a book on the Holocaust for a long
time, but quite frankly the idea overwhelmed me. Finally one of
my editors, who was a rabbi's wife at the time, persuaded me to
confront the task. Writers and storytellers are the memory of a
civilization, and we who are alive now really must not forget
what happened in that awful time or else we may be doomed to
repeat it. This book is about a Jewish teenager who--much like
me at that age--hated the idea of having to remember so much
Jewish history and ritual. At a family seder, she opens the door to
Elijah and finds herself whirled back in time to a Polish Jewish
shtetl in the 1940s. There, though she alone understands what
will happen to the villagers, she is taken with them to a
concentration camp. This is a story of the quiet heroism in the
camps and why we must bear witness to history.”
Jane Yolen
This Book’s Importance to Society
The Devil’s Arithmetic is an important read
because it reminds us of a devastating time
in our world’s history. As difficult as this
story is to read and hear, it must be told
again and again. Only in remembering will
we be able to prevent this from happening
again, and by doing so we will be supplied
the courage to intervene when we see these
atrocities occur around the world.
Yolen, J. (1988). The Devil’s Arithmetic. Viking
Penguin, Inc.: New York

The Devil’s Arithmetic - Pine Mountain Middle School