Section 1 Summary

As a child in Sighet, Hungary, Elie Wiesel lives with his shop-owner father, his mother, and three sisters. Elie wants to study the cabbala, the mystical studies of the Jewish traditions. When he asks permission from his father, he is told that he is too young, that it is not until the age of thirty that one is considered mature enough to take on this extensive course of study. But Elie decides that he will find a teacher for himself. When he is twelve, at the end of 1941, he encounters Moshe the Beadle, who works at the synagogue. Moshe questions him, telling him that man raises himself toward God by the questions he asks. Yet man cannot understand the answers that God gives him. Moshe states that it is only within oneself that one can find the answers. Moshe thus prays that God will give him the strength to ask the right questions. And so Elie begins his study of the cabbala with Moshe.

One day it is announced that all foreign Jews are expelled from Hungary. Moshe and the others are crammed onto cattle cars and transported out of the city. After some months, Moshe is back in Sighet. He tells the story that he and the others were brought into a forest where they were made to dig huge graves. Then they were killed, including the small babies, who were used as target practice. Moshe had only a wounded leg. Eventually he escaped and returned home. When he tells of what is happening to the Jews, no one believes him.

In the spring of 1944, there is news that the Germans are being defeated. Then the Fascist party rises to power. Soon, German troops enter the village. They are housed in the homes of the residents, even the Jews. They are well behaved until the week of Passover. It is then announced that every Jew must wear a yellow star, and their rights are placed under severe restrictions. Elie’s father does not see any harm in wearing the yellow star. “You don’t die of it,” he said. Then the Jews are rounded up into two ghettos. Elie’s family is in the larger one. The Jews form their own council of self-government. The word then comes that all the Jews in Sighet are to be deported. Thinking that perhaps it is only to protect them from the advancing troops, the Jews do not yet panic. Street by street, the Jews are driven out of the large ghetto and crammed into the smaller one. An old servant, Martha, tells the Wiesel family to come to her village for safety. Elie’s father refuses to leave his wife and baby, and the other children refuse to be separated. On the Sabbath, they are herded into the synagogue. The next morning they are loaded onto trains.