"The Devil's Arithmetic" by Jane Yolen, Chapters 5–9

July 29, 2022
During a Passover Seder, 12-year-old Hannah is mysteriously transported from 1980s New York to Poland during World War II. When Hannah is forced into a concentration camp, her survival depends on understanding the depraved arithmetic the Nazis use to keep track of their prisoners.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1–4, Chapters 5–9, Chapters 10–13, Chapter 14–Epilogue
“Being married might be scary,” Hannah agreed tentatively.
She shivered, then followed him out to the barn, where they fed hay to the work horses, Popel and Hopel, in companionable silence.
“But if there is no Old Rochelle, how can there be a New?” Shmuel mused out loud.
“Have some coffee, Yitzchak. It is a long way through the forest from the shtetl to here, and even longer to Fayge’s village,” Shmuel said, gesturing expansively with his hand.
Look how the morning flies, and we sit here gabbling about wedding nights, which will be here soon enough.
I have still to clean the house. I will not have Fayge coming here, fresh from her father’s house where there is a serving girl to clean, and think me and all in this shtetl slovens.
“I thought he was nice,” Hannah ventured.
Instead, she began to clear away the dishes with silent efficiency and seemed to be the only one who was surprised that she was helping.
What was dream and what was real were getting harder and harder to distinguish.
She had already discovered, to her horror, that the bathroom was a privy outside the house, and it had no light for night visits.
Hannah pulled the dress on. It fit her perfectly in the bodice and the sleeves, but came down way over her knees.
If she pretended she was going to a Halloween party, the outfit would be bearable.
Gitl braided her hair into two tight plaits, then held up a pair of blue velvet ribbons.
By noon, half the shtetl was gathered outside their door, laughing and trading stories so loudly the chickens hid in the barn, refusing to come out even when three little boys in short pants and yarmulkes tried to coax them with corn.
Hannah felt a lot like the chickens, nervous about all the loud, strange men and the laughing, chattering women. Sensing Hannah’s timidity, Gitl kept her close as she greeted everyone by name, thanking them for the gifts as if she were the bride herself.
Looking surprisingly beautiful in a dark green dress with a broad white lace collar, Gitl made sure all the tributes were piled onto two wagons: crocks of butter, lengths of cloth, a white lace tablecloth, wooden bowls, and a pair of truly ugly silver candlesticks that Shmuel announced had been sent over by the rendar himself.
I heard once about a girl who disguised herself as a boy and went into a yeshivah to study Torah.
“Chops off her hair!” Appalled, Shifre put her hands up to her own pale braids.
She told them the plot of Little Women in ten minutes, a miracle of compression, especially since her book report had been seven typed pages.
She mesmerized them with her tellings.
Walking through the woods behind the wagons, the girls kept jostling one another for the place of honor by Hannah’s side.
There was even one clique of girls—Rosemary called them “the Snubs”—who never spoke to her, though three were in her Hebrew class and one was actually Rosemary’s cousin.
The Snubs came over and called them babies just when Jordan Mandel went by.
Sunlight filtered through the canopy of large trees, spotlighting the forest.
Hannah was in the middle of a muddled version of Hansel and Gretel, having temporarily run out of movies and books and fallen back on the nursery tales she told Aaron or the Brodie twins, when her attention was arrested by a high, thin, musical wail.
The pace of the walk, which had become leisurely, quickened.
Behind them came Shmuel, dancing with abandon, his hands above his head and his black hair a dark halo around it.
Each knot of people he left was laughing uproariously.
She expected a princess’s hand, small, fine-boned, soft. But Fayge’s hand was large and strong, with calluses in the palm.
The bride’s wagon was turned around at last, and the procession started up again.
The dominant color was brown: brown wooden buildings, brown sandy streets, as if it were a faded photograph.
She gave him a hug, and his normally dour face lit up.
Somehow the badchan materialized in front of the wagon.
“Sometimes she is lucid, other times she talks of Rochelles and needles and snakes.” He tapped his finger to his forehead.
“What about our wedding?” She meant it for his ears alone but Hannah was close enough to him to hear every plaintive syllable.
“We will be married, in God’s sight,” Shmuel said adamantly. “I promise you that nothing will keep us apart.”
The government has decreed that we are to be relocated for the duration of this war.
There was a murmur of assent from the men.
At my request, the soldiers will pay special attention to the shul to make sure the peasants do not desecrate it.
“Whatever your objections, be still. This is not one of your stories that ends happy-ever-after. There are not imaginary bullets in those guns. Listen to the rabbi. He is right to calm us. If we go quietly, no harm will come.”

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