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Literature: The Devil's Arithmetic
"You are a name, not a number. Never forget that name, whatever they tell you here. You will always be Chaya—life—to me."

The Devil's Arithmetic is a 1988 Historical Fiction novel by Jane Yolen about a teenaged Jewish girl named Hannah, who is transported through time to a 1942 Polish concentration camp. Hannah goes from being disrespectful of Jewish beliefs to realizing the importance of remembering after seeing the horrors of the time.

It was made into an Anvilicious movie starring Kirsten Dunst in 1999.

Tropes used by the novel:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In the novel when Hannah goes into the past, she assumes the identity of Chaya. In the movie her name is still Hannah.
  • Adapted Out: Rivka's brother Wolf in the film. He is replaced with her mother Mina, who doubles as a Composite Character of Hannah's aunt and uncle.
    • Several minor characters as well, such as Rachel, Esther, and Shifre, who Hannah meets at the wedding, and the female camp guard.
  • Adult Fear
  • Age Lift: In the novel Hannah is around eleven or twelve. In the movie she is old enough to drive and get a tattoo (Kirsten Dunst was seventeen when the film was made).
  • All Jews Are Ashkenazi: Subtly averted when Hannah is told by Rivka to not stand near the Greek Jews, because they don't speak Yiddish and so therefore can't understand commands in German. This is because most Greek Jews were either Romaniotes (living in Greece since Roman times) or Sephardic (emigrating there from Spain or North Africa), rather than Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi Jews.
  • Anvils That Needed To Be Dropped: The point of the book and the movie, to introduce young teenagers to the the Holocaust.
  • As the Good Book Says
  • Cassandra Truth: Hannah when telling the men about the failed escape attempt.
    • Also, Hannah when trying to tell anybody that she's from the future and thus knows what the Nazis are up to.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted with Hannah knowing the outcome about the escape attempt. The men don't listen to her and end up getting hanged.
  • Composite Character: In the film, Rivka becomes Hannah's cousin and replaces the relatives she meets when she first journeys to the past.
  • Death by Adaptation: A borderline example. In both Hannah sacrifices herself and goes to the gas chambers in Rivka's place. In the novel it is only implied as Hannah realizes as she walks into the gas chambers that she is walking back through the apartment door in the future. The film however actually shows it happening, complete with a shot of Hannah's body.
  • Fan Disservice: Twice. First when the women are ordered to strip to their underwear when they enter the camp. Secondly when they are about to be gassed.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Gitl does this several times to Chaya.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Rivka braids Hannah's hair when she is transported to the past.
  • Grandfather Clause
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Chaya who Hannah has been reincarnated as saves Rivka this way.
  • Identity Amnesia: While Hannah's hair is being cut off, she realizes she can't remember her old life at all, and eventually just believes Hannah never existed.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted completely. The Rabbi's young children are killed early on and 11-year-old Sarah is gassed at the end, to say nothing of the literal baby born at the camp who is carried off with her mother to presumably be killed.
  • Ironic Echo: Rivka instructs Hannah on how to pray by speaking "so quietly only God can hear me". Aunt Eva and Hannah have this conversation when Hannah returns to the future.
    Eva: I would suggest that you ask God. Do you know how to do that?
    Hannah: So quietly only God can hear me.
  • Meaningful Echo: Not explicitly stated but left in with a bit of Fridge Brilliance. When Hannah is speaking to her Aunt Eva she remarks "the way you speak, I will never get over it". Rivka says the same thing in the past once which makes sense since they're the same person.
    • Also about the photo "someday I will make you a copy".
  • Meaningful Name: As the quotes says above, Chaya means 'life.' Ironically, she gives her life so her future relative can live.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Hannah and her friends are at first horrified by Rivka's pragmatic view of life in the concentration camp, but they soon change their mind
  • Shot at Dawn
  • Slipknot Ponytail: Hannah has her hair up in pigtail loops when she arrives in the past. While she is being transported in the cattle cart, her hair has come down into two normal pigtails.
  • Stable Time Loop: In both the book and the movie, although the movie makes it more explicit
  • Together in Death
  • Translation Convention: In the book, Hannah realizes she is neither speaking nor hearing English but instead that she now understands Yiddish as if it were English. In the movie dialogue that presumably be in either Yiddish or German is rendered in English, as are prayers which presumably would be primarily spoken in Hebrew (although there are some prayers that are left untranslated, most notably the rabbi screaming out the Mourner's Kaddish with a distinct Ashkenazi accent)
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia
  • Traumatic Haircut: Truth in Television as all the Jews have their hair shorn when they enter the camp. In the book Hannah remarks she has trouble telling the other women apart.
  • War Is Hell
  • World War II
  • You Are Number Six

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alternative title(s): The Devils Arithmetic; Ptitlebp7tm9ah; The Devils Arithmetic
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