Eliezer lives with his parents and his three sisters in the village of Sighet in Transylvania. He studies the Talmud, the Jewish holy book, under the tutelage of Moshe the Beadle. Late in 1941, the Hungarian police expel all foreign Jews, including Moshe, from Sighet in cattle cars. Several months later, Moshe returns and informs Eliezer that the deported Jews had been turned over to the German Gestapo and executed in a forest in Poland. Moshe had managed to escape. He had returned to Sighet to warn the Jewish community of what would happen to all Jews if they remained in the area.
Moshe’s warning is ignored, and the Jews of Sighet continue with their daily routines. During the Passover celebration of 1944, however, German soldiers arrive in Sighet, arrest Jewish leaders, confiscate the valuables of Jewish townspeople, and force all Jews to live in a restricted section of town. A short time later, all of Sighet’s Jews are forced into cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz, the site of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. On the train ride to Auschwitz, one woman goes mad; in her delirium, she has visions of a huge furnace spewing flames, a foreshadowing of the crematories that would take the lives of many concentration camp inmates.
When they arrive at Auschwitz, Eliezer and his father are separated from his mother and sisters. Many children are led directly toward a crematory, where they are immediately executed. All the men have their heads shaved and a number tattooed on their arms. Eliezer and his fellow captives are forced to live in squalid barracks; they are fed only bread, water, and tasteless broth. Although many of the inmates pray for strength to survive their horrific ordeal, Eliezer ceases to pray, and he begins to doubt God’s sense of justice.
A short time later, Eliezer, his father, and hundreds of others are marched to another concentration camp, Buna, where conditions are no better. Eliezer is assigned to work in a warehouse, and he is sometimes beaten by his supervisor. Eliezer’s gold-crowned tooth, an article of value to his captors, is removed with a rusty spoon by a...
(The entire section is 872 words.)