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The Devil's Arithmetic Discussion Questions

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

'The Devil's Arithmetic' is the haunting tale of Hannah Stern as she is taken back in time to World War II. Use these discussion questions to help your middle school students process the historical context and challenging topics within the novel.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is a harrowing fictional story of Chaya Abramowitz, in the voice of Hannah Stern who has been transported back in time to experience Nazi Europe during World War II. A cast of characters that represent the strength of the Jewish people during these devastating times bring the story to life. A twist at the end brings the story full circle as Hannah takes up her life again.

Help your middle school students digest this heavy material by using the discussion questions below. You may want to begin with a whole class discussion before breaking students into teams and providing them with a list of questions. Providing a few questions for students to record their answers in writing can serve as an excellent summative assessment, as well. Additionally, extension options abound, including showing the film version of the book, researching the stories of Holocaust survivors, or completing a project about the Holocaust.

Note: These questions are designed to be used after students have read the novel.

Historical Context

  • Although a thorough study of the Holocaust would warrant a lengthy series of books, Yolen brings essential elements of this devastating time to life in The Devil's Arithmetic. What does Hannah experience that is a hallmark of what victims faced during these times? Provide specific examples.
  • How did Hannah and the others cope with the daily tragedies they faced? How did they keep hope in their hearts in the face of such horrors? Use details from the text to support your answer.
  • Jewish traditions were carried forward by Holocaust survivors. How were these traditions maintained even during their time in the camps? What traditions did Hannah experience during her life in New York? How did she feel about these traditions?
  • Why do you think Hannah's family is so intent on retelling the past? What was their goal in doing so? Do you think these heavy topics were helpful to Hannah? What message should she be getting from listening to them discuss their experiences?

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