The Devil's Arithmetic (film)

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The Devil's Arithmetic
Directed by Donna Deitch
Produced by Lee Gottsegen
Tom Kuhn
Murray Schisgal
Fred Weintraub
Screenplay by Robert J. Avrech
Based on The Devil's Arithmetic 
by Jane Yolen
Starring Kirsten Dunst
Brittany Murphy
Paul Freeman
Mimi Rogers
Louise Fletcher
Music by Frédéric Talgorn
Distributed by Showtime
Release dates
March 28, 1999
Running time
95 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Devil's Arithmetic is a 1999 TV movie based on the historical novel of the same name by Jane Yolen. It stars Kirsten Dunst as Hannah Stern and costars Brittany Murphy, Louise Fletcher, and Mimi Rogers. Dustin Hoffman introduces the film but is uncredited and serves as an executive producer with Mimi Rogers.

Plot synopsis[edit]

A young girl discovers the truth about her family. Hannah hates going to her family seder. Her family tells the same stories and Hannah is tired of hearing about the past. However, during the seder Hannah goes up and opens the front door to let in the prophet Elijah. But when she opens the door she doesn't see the outside of the apartment, she sees a Polish village. Not only is she all of a sudden in a new place but also she finds that she is in the year 1942.

Once Hannah is in the Village she discovers that she has taken the place of a girl named Chaya. Hannah begins to meet Chaya's family and she learns a little bit about what is going on everyday. She lives with her Aunt Gitl who is helping her recover from a disease that she had just overcome. She also learned that her Uncle Shmuel is getting married to a women named Fayge in a few days. Soon the day of the wedding comes and the whole family gets together to walk to Fayge's village. Chaya becomes friends with the other girls her age named Rachel, Esther, Shifre, and Yente. The whole way to the village, Chaya tells them fairy tales and movies from what Hannah remembers.

The festivities go on while everyone walks to the other village. When they arrive, some soldiers are there to greet them. They are Nazi soldiers. The soldiers tell Shmuel and some other people that they must go with them to be resettled. Chaya remembers about the past and what happens to all the Jewish people and tries to protest, but the family believes that going with the soldiers will be ok. They then start a long hard journey.

They start off in the cars that the Nazis had brought. Then they were forced into a boxcar where little air was provided. This took many days and no food or water was given. The Jewish men and women were treated with no respect and were stripped of their jewelry and all other possessions except their clothes.

Before they knew it Chaya and her new family were placed in a Nazi concentration camp called Auschwitz.

Immediately following their arrival the group of Jews are forced into a room and are stripped of their clothes and must get their hair shaved off. Once that is done they are forced to line up and given a tattoo number that is their new "name". Gitl, Chaya, and all the other women are separated from the men and placed in two different camps. Both camps work them hard and if one is bad or can no longer work they are sent to Lilith's cave, which is the gas chambers.

Chaya, Esther, Shifre, and Yente meet up with a girl named Rivka. Rivka shows them around and teaches them the tricks of living in the camp. She helps them stay alive. Work in the camp is hard and they get 2 small meals a day. They also get visits from Commandant Bruer who is the head of the camp. He pretends like he doesn't know of the little children and kills anyone he chooses.

Many things happen at the camp, people are killed, even those who Chaya is closest with. Then one day a soldier comes by when Rivka, Chaya, Shifre, and Esther were supposed to be getting water but instead were talking. The soldier comes over and tells them that he needs to send three more people to the gas chambers and that these four were not working so they are great candidates. He then chooses Esther because of how weak she is. Then he chose Shifre because she protested too much. The last person he chose was Rivka. Chaya knows that Rivka would survive and she feels like she should go. So Chaya tells Rivka to run and she takes her place and heads to Lilith's cave.

After Chaya died in the gas chamber, the scene from the 1940s disappears and Hannah is back at her family seder in her aunt's apartment. She then sits down with the family and begins to talk to her aunt. Hannah soon finds out that her aunt during the Holocaust was a young girl named Rivka. Hannah is then able to tell her story because she knows so much about it. She tells of how a girl named Chaya saved her aunt's life.


The film was shot in Vilnius, Lithuania in fall 1998 and a concentration camp set was built before shooting began and was designed to resemble Auschwitz.[1]



  1. ^ Re-Creating the Scene of the Crimes Los Angeles Times. 28 March 1999

External links[edit]