In chapter 1: What is a ghetto?
When the Nazi soldiers first arrive in the small town of Sighet, Elie and the other Jewish citizens are forced to wear a yellow star on their clothing to identify them as Jewish. Other edicts are soon issued against the Jewish citizens before they are finally segregated into two restricted areas of the town known as ghettos. During the Holocaust, ghettos were lower-class tenements, where Jewish citizens were forced to live so that the Nazis could isolate them from the rest of society. Ghettos were designed to be temporary solutions to segregate Jews before they could be deported as prisoners to concentration and death camps. The living conditions in the ghettos were cramped, uncomfortable, and restricting. Elie also mentions that the two ghettos in Sighet were surrounded by barbed wire fences. Elie and his family spend several weeks in Sighet's ghettos before they are eventually deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
A ghetto is an area of a city where minority members of the population gather together and live. Often these citizens are low-income, perhaps immigrants, and marginalized by the majority culture. In contemporary times, you may be familiar with the term "ghetto" used to describe people or items in a negative way, such as, "This school is so ghetto. Our books are ten years out of date."
In Elie Wiesel's time, Jews were segregated in separate areas of cities. This forcible segregation of Jews was not new during World War II. It had occurred for centuries in many countries. In fact, the term "ghetto" is Italian.