The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen
Throughout my grammar and high school career I have read over one hundred books. Although some of these books were boring, others were life changing and inspirational to a teen such as myself. In grammar school we were taught about Nazi Germany. Because of this, I began to read books, both fictional and non-fictional, about Europe at the time of the Nazi takeover. One such book was The Devil’s Arithmetic. It subjected the reader to deep consideration of how history shaped our lives. It also dabbles in family and religious history. It leads me to question how people during this time dealt with anti-Semitism, the Nazi invasion, and how my own family history has shaped my life.
Hannah Stern, a wealthy and spoiled Jewish teen awoke in a world which was soiled with anti-Semitism brought on by the Nazis. Forced to live within the barracks of concentration camps, she located her grandmother as a mere teenager living as a laborer. Little did Hannah know, she was in the body of her grandmother’s best friend, Hannah, at that time, who she was named after. At the end of the story Hannah sacrifices herself to the gas chambers to save the life of her grandmother. This was an inspirational test of courage. Hannah then awakens from what was all but a dream. Her once negative attitude towards her religion was broken through such an experience. She embraced her religious beliefs and overcame anti-Semitism all due to a dream.
The Nazi invasion was symbolized by the non-acceptance of Jews in European communities. It is mind boggling to think that one religion was nearly destroyed because one group despised their actions and blamed them for the hard times occurring in their country. The harsh and brutal treatment received by the Jews seems unrealistic in this day and age. We are now accepting of all cultures, religions, and skin colors. To think that the Nazis could have accomplished their hopes of a Jewish extinction distresses and puzzles me. The story of two teenage girls living in a concentration camp, forced to work long hours, and have little food, although fictional in this case made me cry. The Diary of Anne Frank had the same effect on me, especially knowing that it was the true story of a family hiding in fear of the Nazi invasion in the Netherlands.
I was unable to put this book down. Its storyline made me question how my own family has been shaped by historical events. The idea that my family history could have been changed by even a miniscule event is thought provoking. This book has led me to believe that you must live your life to the fullest, and be grateful for everything you are given in life, because you never know who died or fought for you to be where you are in life. Hannah’s experience in the time of the Nazis changed her outlook on life. Just as it changed her, the story has changed me and taught me to appreciate life for what it is and be happy with what I have been blessed with.