Despite outright warnings and omens of disaster, the Jews of Sighet, the Transylvanian town where Elie Wiesel grew up, refuse to acknowledge the imminent danger they face. In the first few pages of Wiesel's memoir he doesn't even mention the war. It intrudes abruptly when Moshe the Beadle is deported along with other foreign-born Jews. When Moshe miraculously returns, he reports on the atrocities he witnessed and the incredible cruelty of the Nazis. The townspeople don't believe Moshe and won't even listen to his warnings. Moshe's story is soon forgotten, and Elie says life went back to normal as news from the war was good and it seemed the Nazis were destined for defeat. Some said, "Hitler won't be able to do us any harm, even if he wants to." The Jews cannot fathom that the Germans could actually exterminate an entire race of people.
Although it seems the war may be drawing to a close, "disturbing news" about the Germans occupying Hungary reaches Sighet. Again people express disbelief that anything will happen. They say, "The Germans won't get as far as this." Elie says that "optimism" returned. Soon, however, Germans begin to filter into the town, but even then, at the height of "anxiety" and "anguish," the Jews remain in denial. Some claim the Germans are benign and there's even a report that they have given Madame Kahn "a box of chocolates." They say,
"Well, there you are, you see! What did we tell you? You wouldn't believe us. There are your Germans! What do you think of them? Where is their famous cruelty?"
Even after the Jews are forced to wear yellow stars and denied access to restaurants and travel, their spirits remain intact. The establishment of the ghettos actually raises optimism as the Jews consider the ghettos an improvement and their own insulated world. Elie writes,
The general opinion was that we were going to remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Then everything would be as before.
Of course, nothing ever returns to normal for Elie and the other Jews, as shortly after the ghettos are set up the deportations begin. Amazingly, Elie's father refuses to believe in the impending catastrophe as he won't listen to his old servant Martha, who wants to hide the family in her village. Instead, the family is eventually deported to the concentration camps, and only Elie survives the ordeal.