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SECTION SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
In 1941, Elie Wiesel, a twelve-year-old Jewish boy, lives in Sighet, Romania, with his parents. He has two older sisters, Hilda and Beatrice (Bea), and one younger sister, Tzipora, who is only seven years old.
Even though he is a youth, Elie is very religious and is interested in studying the Talmud and the Cabbala. He asks his father to find him an appropriate teacher, but he feels that his son is too young to undertake such advanced studies. Since his father does not help him in pursuing his religious studies, Elie approaches Moshe the Beadle for guidance. Moshe, a poor, lowly, and lonely worker in the synagogue, agrees to help the young Elie. After evening services, he talks to Elie about God and religion.
One day Hungarian police arrest Moshe, along with other foreigners; Elie is crushed to have lost his tutor. When the prisoners are taken away, no one in the village knows where they are going or if they will be seen again. Moshe, however, reappears in the village after about three months. He tells the villagers about his miraculous escape. He had been shot in the leg, and the soldiers assumed he was dead; before they discover he is breathing, he manages to escape.
Moshe also tells the villagers appalling stories about how the Jews are being tortured and killed. He explains how the deportees are boarded onto horribly crowded trucks and taken to concentration camps. He tells how babies are tossed into the air and used as shooting targets and how mass numbers of Jews are killed by machine gun fire. These tales are so shocking that Elie and the other villagers do not believe them; they simply think that Moshe has gone mad during his absence. Moshe weeps and tells his stories again.
The villagers in Sighet learn more about the war from the London news. They hear about the intense hatred that Hitler has for all Jews. They then try to console themselves by saying that Hitler cannot possibly stay in power long enough to eliminate every Jew. Elie, however, is concerned about his family's safety. He asks his father to wind up everything in the grocery store that he owns so that the family can immigrate to Palestine. The father argues that he is too old to get settled in a new place. Before Elie can convince him to leave, the German army arrives in Sighet.
With the Nazis in control of the village, many Jewish offices and shops are closed; the synagogue is also shut down. Even though there is great tension in the town, the Jews celebrate Passover. On the seventh day of the festival, many Jewish leaders are arrested. The remaining Jews are ordered to wear a yellow star to indicate their background. They are also banned from restaurants, schools, and trains and must stay in their homes after 6:00 p.m. Then their homes are seized, and they must move to the ghetto. The Wiesels are moved to the largest ghetto in Sighet. Most importantly, more and more Jews are being arrested and sent away to concentration camps.
Early one Sunday morning in May of 1944, a kind police officer warns the Wiesels that they are in danger. Realizing that they are to be deported, they prepare food for the journey. By 8:00 a.m., all Jews are forced to stand outside and await their fate; while they wait, many are struck with billy clubs. By early afternoon, the first train, filled with Sighet Jews, departs for the concentration camp. On Saturday, Elie and his family are arrested and loaded into a crowded cattle car; they are in the last convoy out of Sighet.
In the first section of the book, Wiesel gives an insight into what he was like as a child living in Sighet, Romania. Serious and intelligent by nature, he wants to know more about his Jewish religion. When his father refuses to find him a tutor, he finds one himself. Each evening after the service in the synagogue, the young Wiesel studies with Moshe the Beadle; he is a lonely and lowly worker in the synagogue. Elie reads every page of the Zohar, "The Book of Brightness," again and again; it is an interpretation of Jewish law, which forms the main text of the Cabbala. Wiesel also spends time in prayer, often weeping. He cries for the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, which took place in 586 B.C. He cries for the current persecution of the Jews.
Wiesel tells about the arrest and deportation of his tutor, Moshe. He then explains how Moshe returns three months later with tales of Jewish persecution, imprisonment, and murder. At first, no one believes that Jews are subjected to such atrocities. Then, however, the Nazis arrive in Sighet and begin to persecute the Jews. Shops and synagogues are closed, and Jews are forced to wear a yellow "Star of David" to identify them. Soon they are taken from their homes and forced to live in squalid conditions in ghetto areas. Then the deportations to concentration camps begin.
Finally, in 1944, Elie and his family are arrested and forced into an overcrowded cattle car bound for Auschwitz, the death camp.