Why did the citizens resist the truth, even when it was in front of them?
The citizens of Sighet resisted the truth about Germany's intent to exterminate Jews because Jewish people have lived in many countries and, although they have long been persecuted, nothing like mass extermination has ever occurred. They also believe that they need not fear Nazi Germany because it will be defeated in the war.
Until the state of Israel was founded, the Jewish people had no country of their own. Their history is patterned with persecution, often by those of the country in which they have lived. In fact, this persecution goes all the way back to the Crusades. Throughout European history, they have been expelled from various countries, or they have had restrictions placed upon them, such as having to live in ghettos, as were established in Venice. But, no such mass extermination ever occurred like that of Nazi Germany. This is why it is hard for the residents of Sighet to believe Moishe's warnings.
Furthermore, Elie's town of Sighet was a part of Hungary in the 1940s. At that time the Jews were integrated into Hungarian society. In the capital of Budapest, they were 23% of the population and were prominent in the arts, business, and science. Perhaps, this is why the one resident of Sighet calmly observes after the removal of the foreign Jews, "What do you expect? That's war . . . " and the others go back to their daily lives thinking that Hungarian Jews need not be afraid.
Not long after the foreign Jews were removed from Sighet, Moishe the Beadle, who was among them, returns and states that the deportation train on which he and others rode, was turned over to the German Gestapo once it reached into Polish territory. It was then that the mass murders of the Jews took place at the hands of the Gestapo. Moishe escaped death because as he was made to stand before the immense open grave, the shot to his head missed and went into his leg. When it was dark, he escaped and returned to Sighet to warn them. As they listen, the Jewish people in Sighet find it hard to believe that Hungary would turn over the train to the Gestapo. They also are convinced that Russia will defeat Germany.
The people were saying, "The Red Army is advancing with giant strides . . . Hitler will not be able to harm us, even if he wants to . . . "
Yes, we even doubted his resolve to exterminate us. Annihilate an entire people? Wipe out a population dispersed throughout so many nations? So many millions of people! By what means? In the middle of the twentieth century! And thus my elders concerned themselves with all manner of things—strategy, diplomacy, politics, and Zionism—but not with their own fate. (Ch.1)
When Elie and his family talk, Elie, who has listened to Moishe many times, asks his father to sell everything and emigrate as it was still possible to obtain certificates. But, his father says that he is too old to abandon his business and start a new life in a foreign country. He suggests that Elie and the rest of the family emigrate, but this idea is abandoned.
Yet we still were not worried. Of course we had heard of the Fascists, but it was all in the abstract. It meant nothing more to us than a change of ministry. (Ch.1)
Later, the residents of Sighet hear of the daily bombings of Germany and Stalingrad, the preparation of the Second Front. Elie states, "And so we, the Jews of Sighet, waited for better days that surely were soon to come." (Ch.1)
Elie and his family are from a sect of Hasidic Jews. These Jewish people believe very strongly in God. Most of the people accepted whatever happened to them as God's decision and did not question what was going to happen.
When the foreign Jews were expelled from Sighet, one Jew stated, " What do you expect? That's war..." and thing went back to normal. (pg 6)
When Moishe the Beadle returned from this removal and told the people that he was saved by an act of God and that the soldiers had killed everyone who had been removed they ignored him. He tells Elie that he came back to warn all of the Jews so they could prepare, but no one will listen to him. They think he is crazy. He eventually stopped and again things went back to "normal."
The Jewish people did not believe that God would let these things happen. They did not believe that Hitler could ever harm them. Even when the Germans rolled into town the Jewish people tried to turn a blind eye to what was going on and tried to simply keep out of the way of the Germans.
As Elie says when the people are eventually moved into the Ghetto that, "The ghettos were not ruled by the Germans or the Jews; it was ruled by delusion." (pg 12)