Photo: Elizabeth Meier and Iowa Poet Laureate Mary Swander
Dear Jane Yolen,
When I picked up The Devil's Arithmetic I didn't really know what to expect. I had no idea of the story that would unfold. As I opened the book, just like Hannah opened the door, I was transported to a new world and a new perspective. Your book might have been fiction but it felt very real to me.
As Hannah, the main character, and I journeyed through the book, I realized we are very much alike: Hannah was twelve, almost thirteen, with braces and brown hair. I'm thirteen, I recently got my braces off, and I have brown hair. Our similarities aren't just cosmetic. I might not be Jewish, but faith is important to me. My dad is a pastor and every two years we have a Passover Seder at our church. I usually think it's awfully dull: all we do is listen to people talk about the significance of the Passover, we eat horseradish, celery dipped in salt water, and then we finally get to eat somewhat appetizing food like roast beef and salad. Uhg, I know I don't like this event. Neither did Hannah at the beginning of the book. The Passover was just another interesting story in the Bible for both of us.
The Devil's Arithmetic showed me the pure evil of the Holocaust, for a child to go through what all the grownups did was just heartbreaking. As I was reading the book, something started to trouble me. If Hannah was going through this, I could have been too. I realized the Holocaust wasn't just a terrible story about millions of people that were killed, it was real and it could have happened to me.
As Hannah's days progressed, I started to think (really think) about what the children in the concentration camps had to go through. They starved, they watched as people were killed, and they were so brave to go through it all. I couldn't help thinking if I were one of them would I be able to survive? I came up with nothing but a no.
As Hannah closed the door, and I closed the book, we were both changed people. I'll never look at the Holocaust or the Passover in the same way again. Before reading The Devil's Arithmetic, I didn't understand the Holocaust and I didn't really care. Because Hannah was so much like me, I now understand the horrible suffering and true evil the Jews endured and I care. Thank you.