Deane's Blog

The Devil's Arithmetic

Good ReadsDeane Watters2 Comments

img_2013 How old were you when you first heard about the Holocaust?

My first memories are not clear but I have a fuzzy sense of being in sixth grade and having our teacher read to our class every day after lunch recess. We would come in hot and sweaty, lay our heads on our desk tops and listen as she read a variety of books to us. Only one of those books stands out to me. I think it was the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer. Perhaps it was a book like it. This one was published in 1960 so it would have been a fairly new book when I was in the sixth grade. Some of my fellow classmates with better memories than mine, might be able to clarify this, but I do remember feeling shocked and appalled over everything I heard.

This month our Kid Lit Book Club read a book that brought this time period, this unbelievable part of our world's history, to light at a child's level because it was written about a child. Hannah, a young girl from New York, was reluctantly celebrating the Passover Seder with her family. The routines of the meal bored her and she told her mother that she was tired of remembering things that didn't seem to have any connection to her. But she was not sympathized with. "Tired or not, you're going with us, young lady. Grandpa Will and Grandma Belle are expecting the entire family and that means you, too. You have to remember how much family means to them. Grandma lost both her parents to the Nazis before she and her brother managed to escape. And Grandpa Will lost everyone but your Aunt Eva. A family of eight all but wiped out"

Hannah didn't really know what that was all about but she knew she didn't have a choice; she was going to go through the motions of the Seder meal whether she wanted to or not. At one point in the meal she was asked to go to the door to invite Elijah in.

"Slowly Hannah moved toward the front door, feeling incredibly dumb. She certainly didn't believe that the prophet Elijah would come through the apartment door any more than she believed Darth Vader, or Robin Hood, or...the Easter Bunny, would. No one believed those superstitions anymore. No one except babies. Like Aaron.

Glancing over her shoulder, Hannah saw they were all watching her intently. Aaron bounced up and down on his chair.

"Open it, Hannah!" he called out loudly. "Open it for Elijah!"

But what happened next was to change Hannah's life forever. No longer would she fail to appreciate the horror of those years or treat lightly the losses that occurred across Europe.

When is a child old enough to hear of the horrors of the war? I wish one never had to learn of them. But when the time comes, this book would be a good introduction although it is graphic and not appropriate for the very young. I was intrigued from the beginning and interested until the very end when Hannah came back into the room to finish the Seder meal, seemingly minutes later, a changed, enlightened and suddenly, very interested, young woman.