The first sign that trouble is on the horizon is when all the foreign Jews are expelled from Sighet. One of these Jews is Moishe the Beadle, a religious eccentric much loved by Elie and the community at large. For months, no one thinks of this until one day Moishe returns and reveals that the expelled Jews were abused and murdered by the Nazis, forced to dig their own graves before being shot. However, despite these two signs, no one wants to believe Moishe.
In 1943, the community learns via radio that the country's government is trying to make itself more fascist in structure and then the following day, they learn the German fascists have seized control of Hungary. People begin to worry, but they assume the German troops will only remain in Budapest. Not long after, German troops appear in Sighet itself. Once again, the community's fear is short-lived once the German soldiers act distant but otherwise polite with their Jewish hosts.
Passover comes and goes, but then the German occupiers arrest the Jewish leaders of the town. Then, the Jews are all put under a three-day house arrest. Shortly after, the Germans force the Jews to give up their valuables, making it illegal for them to own items such as gold or jewels. Three days after this, all Jews are forced to wear the yellow star, and even then the community acts as though this is no big deal despite the warning signs. Finally, the Jews are all forced into ghettos.
Despite all of these signs, no one in the community wants to believe they will be killed by the German occupiers. They believe such mass murder is impossible in the allegedly more civilized twentieth century. As they come to learn, this is tragically not so.