The Devil's Arithmetic

The Devil's Arithmetic Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10 to 12


Chapter 10

Reb Boruch points out a train station up ahead. The trucks stop outside the station and soldiers with guns tell the frightened villagers to get out and board the waiting boxcars. As they exit the trucks, the villagers notice the discarded belongings of others on the side of the road. Bags, clothing, and other personal items litter the scene. Fayge rips her wedding dress on a nail as she exits the truck, bringing a tear to her eye. She notices her grandmother's satchel on the ground and wonders aloud how her grandmother is faring without it. Hannah looks to Gitl but Gitl tells her to remain quiet.

A Nazi officer steps forward and tells the villagers to remain quiet and do as he says. He instructs them to lie on the ground so that his officers can move among them and take their jewelry and papers for safekeeping. A man objects. Hannah thinks it might be Shmuel. The officer asks who objected and says that the next man to speak will be shot. The officer orders them to lie down again. When still no one moves, he fires a single shot from his pistol near the feet of a villager standing nearby. The villagers finally acquiesce.

After what seems like hours Hannah opens her eyes. She can hear women and children crying. The men are praying. They are ordered to stand up. Gitl has a red mark around her neck where a necklace was forcibly removed. They are ordered to board the boxcars. Hannah asks Gitl how they could all possibly fit in there. Gitl says that with God's help they can. They are crowded in and the doors to the boxcar are shut, triggering panic and screams. Hannah turns to the Rabbi to tell him that they must do something. She knows where they are going, she says. The Rabbi contends that they are in God's hands. Gitl states that God's hands are hot and sweaty, much to the chagrin of Fayge. Hannah is thankful to be close to a pocket of fresh air as the stench of perspiration and vomit begins to build inside the tiny boxcar.

After an hour of silence, a man announces that he can see a village ahead with peasants by the tracks. The passengers scream for help. The man states that the peasants merely run their fingers across their throats in a slashing motion. They do not care. Shmuel asks if they ever did care. Another man says he has heard stories of Jews being relocated to Russia where they were forced to lie down and were slaughtered by soldiers. Other horrific stories emerge, but they are quickly dismissed as gossip and simple stories. Hannah asks why they do not break out and run. Where would they run to? she is asked. "America," she answers. The villagers insist that this is their home. "What about Israel?" asks Hannah. Gitl chuckles. "And where is Israel, except in our prayers?" she says.

Fayge finally asks that the stories come to an end. A woman nearby says her child has become senseless from these stories. Another offers to hold the child but it is discovered that the child is dead. Hannah begins to cry.

Chapter 11

The train ride lasts for four days and nights, during which several old women pass away. The train only makes two stops on its route. At the first the prisoners are allowed some filthy water from a bucket. The dead child is taken from its mother and discarded behind a horse trough. At the second stop their boxcar is not opened.

Finally they arrive at their destination, a concentration camp surrounded by barbed wire. They are unceremoniously ordered out of the boxcar and down a hill toward the camp. Shmuel tells the soldiers there are still dead bodies on board. The soldiers order him to leave them there. A sign above the camp entrance reads, "Arbeit Macht Frei": work will make you free.

The prisoners are taken to their respective barracks. Hannah and the other women meet a woman in a blue dress who tells them that they are the newcomers and therefore the lowest of the low. The woman is a prisoner there, too, but is not a Jew. The woman leads them to an auditorium to shed their clothes so they can be showered. The women are not comfortable changing in front of each other. The woman in the blue dress tells them to think of it as a mikvah, a ritual bath.

Hannah implores them to listen to her. There are no showers, she says, only gas chambers. The women beg her not to frighten them more than they already are. Hannah decides that what she knows will only extinguish any hope they have left. She also decides that there is nothing she can do but cooperate. She has no weapons or means to free them. She reluctantly begins to undress as well.

A male Nazi officer orders them into another room, where they wait, shivering in the cold. Hannah sees some of the other girls and asks about Rachel. Rachel did not survive the trip, she learns. Hannah is overcome with guilt for not telling Rachel that she was her best friend. Hannah is relieved that the showers are real, but with only cold water. Still, she stands underneath for as long as she can and drinks in as much water as possible. Next, a male prisoner comes with scissors and a razor and cuts off the women's hair. They all look identical without it. Hannah tries to remember her history lessons but is shocked when she cannot remember anything. Her memory is gone, too. She cries out for Gitl, who comforts her and tells Hannah to promise her she will not cry in front of the Nazis. Hannah promises she never will.

Chapter 12

The women wait on the bench as their hair is clipped away. The woman in the blue dress enters and orders them into the next room. Hannah notices that the woman only has three fingers on her right hand. In the next room the women find piles of old, smelly clothes. They quickly choose clothes for themselves. Hannah thinks of the dress Gitl gave her earlier that she disliked. It seems like a great luxury now.

The women and children are then moved to another room, where a man waits with an odd-looking instrument. He begins to tattoo numbers on their forearms. Hannah hears a voice say, "This, I'll give them this!" The voice is familiar to her but when she tries to find the source of it she cannot see anyone.

Hannah is called up to be tattooed. The man tasked with tattooing the women, himself a prisoner, asks Hannah her name. She replies that it is Chaya Abramowicz. He tells her that she is wearing his daughter's dress. Her name was Chaya, too. He says to never forget her prisoner number and to live for all the Chayas of the world.

The barracks they are housed in contain only a brick oven at one end for heat and little else. The bunks do not have mattresses or pillows. Gitl helps Fayge into her bunk. She laughs out loud and Hannah asks how she can do that. Gitl answers that without laughter there is no hope and therefore no life. She and Hannah decide to approach the soldiers for some food. The soldier tells them they will eat eventually. Gitl relates a story in which a farmer refuses to feed a horse a full meal. Eventually the horse dies. She asks if the soldier understands the story. He tells her he hears nothing of importance from Jews. He points to the smokestacks in the distance and tells her that it is "Jew smoke." Gitl tells Hannah to get some sleep. She takes her to her bunk and reminds her that she will always be Chaya, not a number, and that she is Gitl’s brother's daughter, her own blood.


Upon arriving at the train station the villagers begin to suspect that what Hannah told them might be correct. Fayge notices her grandmother's discarded satchel among the other personal items littered about the ground. The prisoners have been sent forth without their things, because they won't need them where they are going.

Yolen then details the treatment these prisoners undergo as they are transported to the camp. First, they are relieved of any valuables and personal possessions. The boxcars are hardly fit to transport animals but the villagers are forced aboard and crammed into the claustrophobic conditions. Consider how systematic this dehumanization is and its intended goal. It makes the Jewish prisoners out to be something less than human, making it easier for the soldiers involved to commit the atrocities. It also separates the prisoners from their personal belongings and any sense of identity those belongings may hold for them. This will continue in the camp as the women have their hair cut off and as all the prisoners are tattooed. They will not be known by their names. Instead, they are simply a number. It is during this "processing" that Hannah realizes she cannot remember the history lesson she knows she had regarding the Holocaust. Her old life, her old identity, is slowly slipping away. As Hannah begins to cry at this loss, Gitl tells her never to cry, especially in front of the Nazis. Hannah understands. She will not give them the satisfaction. She will not imply to the soldiers that her will has been broken.

The question of will power coincides with themes of hope and faith in the novel. At various moments, the prisoners strive to keep the flame of hope alive. Reb Boruch tells the frightened villagers that they are in God's hands and must retain their sense of faith. This is easier said than done; Gitl even comments that God's hands are hot and sweaty. Nevertheless, Hannah comes to see the importance of hope for her fellow prisoners. Having thoroughly frightened them with her stories of the Holocaust, she decides she must stop. Frightening them more will do nothing to help them now. As they enter the showers, their hope and faith are rewarded as Hannah sees that they are not being put to death.

Yolen also demonstrates how Hannah's faith is tested. Hannah's exchange with the tattoo artist gives us clues as to the importance of Chaya. The man tells Hannah that his daughter was also named Chaya and that Hannah must live for all the Chayas of the world. Remember that the name Chaya translates as "life." In order for Hannah to accomplish what the tattoo artist asks, she must have faith and accept this alter ego. She must become Chaya for all intents and purposes. Doing so means that Hannah must also accept the situation she is in. She must commit to this task while also retaining the faith that she will be reunited with her real family one day. Consider this struggle in the coming chapters, particularly as Hannah makes the decision to sacrifice herself to save Rivka.

Gitl reminds Hannah that, as Chaya, she is like a daughter to her and not simply a number. Gitl and Shmuel, strangers to Hannah only days ago, are now her only sense of family. Their love for her reminds her of her importance and her identity. Yolen uses these themes to illustrate the conflict between the Nazis and their prisoners. The Nazis sought to destroy the Jewish people, to erase them from existence. The prisoners strive not just to remain alive, but to keep their culture and identity alive as well. In this manner Yolen links family, identity, and history. The prisoners will not stop being Jewish to appease their captors. They will not forget who they are or where they came from but will remain defiant even in the face of such harrowing circumstances.